Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
A rush to (poor) judgment
BREAKING NEWS..."FOOLISH REPORTER GRABS NOTEBOOK, FORGETS BRAIN"As a journalist, you always want to be at the scene of breaking news as quickly as possible.But sometimes, it's possible to be a little too fast!Such was the case late Thursday afternoon.I was sitting in my 4th floor office at the downtown Law Courts complex when a colleague, Jason Bell, called with an interesting tidbit that had just been broadcast over the Winnipeg police scanner."There's apparently some guy with a machine gun in the Norquay Building," Jason said.Now that's not the kind of thing you hear everyday.It took me about 30 seconds to walk out of my office, down three flights of stairs, out the front door...and be standing directly on scene.
The Norquay Building is directly across the street from the courthouse.Now what?I certainly had arrived on scene pretty fast - not a single police car was in sight. Or any other media. Or anyone, really.I could hear sirens in the distance, growing louder each second, but decided to hold off on the urge to get any closer without knowing what exactly was going on inside.It's one thing to cover the story - but you never want to make yourself part of the story.
And with the potential for a machine gun-toting madman just a stone's throw away, common sense prevailed and kept me at what I felt was a safe distance.In this case it was behind a large tree outside the courthouse."Ya, because a machine gun could never fire out a glass window and through a tree," my extremely wise wife would tell me later.Point taken.Police quickly arrived en masse, with at least a dozen officers running towards the building, ushering some bystanders away and beginning a thorough search which would last about 30 minutes.Fortunately, the call proved to be unfounded and nobody was injured. Seems like a 911 caller may have jumped the gun, literally, when they saw a guy walking through the building carrying some kind of bag.But it certainly brought back some memories for yours truly about other times I've been a little too close for comfort.
It used to happen with regularity when I first started out in the business in the mid-1990s, as I pretty much had the police scanner glued to my ear every waking moment.In fact, a photographer and I used to drive around during the early-morning hours, trying to ensure we would be able to respond as quickly as possible to serious calls.The result was plenty of pictures, stories - and a few times we found ourselves getting closer to the action then we'd like.Two stories stand out.The first was the horrible murder of "Beeper" Spence, a 13-year-old who was mistaken for a gang member and shot dead as he strolled down a North End street.The photographer and I happened to be a couple blocks away when the shooting call came over the scanner, and we (foolishly) arrived before police and paramedics.I'll never forget the scene. Beeper was dead on the road, and a large and very angry group of gang members had gathered near the chaotic scene and began threatening us.We ended up running back to our vehicle and waiting until the authorities arrived.The other case involved a call for a guy who had apparently been stabbed - just down the very street we happened to be driving on at the time.We arrived on scene to find the injured man rolling around on the ground."Tell them my wife did it," he said, apparently believing he'd be in no condition to speak with investigators.We told him to hang on, held a towel to his neck wound and assured him everything would be fine. And, fortunately, we were right.There are other times that simply trying to get to a scene quickly proved to be the biggest mistake.I'll save my most memorable story on that front for another day - but let's just say it involves an exploding gas station and a run-in with a none-too-pleased traffic cop!
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hide behind my tree.www.mikeoncrime.com