Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 10, 2014

Bank robbery, car crash: Never a dull day when the scanner crackles

When you start off your day at a newspaper, you literally don’t know where fate will take you that day. There are times when I think that I have borderline attention deficit disorder; you might say that my interests go all over the place. When you take a short attention span into consideration, journalism is a good job because you will find yourself handling multiple topics at the same time.

Tuesday morning, I had hardly settled behind my desk when our police scanner traffic suddenly included words like backpack, mask, robbery and bank. I called Mercer County 911 and learned just enough to confirm a robbery. I grabbed my satchel and headed for the door, pausing long enough to call photographer Jon Bolt. I was soon on the road and hoping that I could get there in time to gather some information or even witness an arrest. Even a few minutes make a difference in what sort of facts are immediately available.

When I arrived in Princeton, I looked at the bank along Greasy Ridge Road and at first thought I had driven to the wrong one, but then I saw troopers searching the embankment along the Wal-Mart parking lot. Down in the little valley, I could see officers and dogs searching. I gathered enough information for a quick Internet update and started looking for more.

This is what I call an “on the run” situation. Police can’t tell you very much because they’re still trying to figure out what happened. I went to the bank hoping to find a lead investigator and found a handwritten “Closed” sign taped to the front door. The drive-through windows were closed, too.

Naturally, this took customers by surprise. I broke the news about the bank robbery to several people as they arrived to do business. One man remarked that he was glad that he wasn’t at the bank when it was robbed, and then asked if the bank had another branch nearby. Another said he was sorry to hear about the robbery and remarked that some folks are “mean as a snake” now.

 Seeing I had a fruitless wait in store, I checked the parking lot again and noticed the troopers were gone. I started walking along the fence to see if the searchers were still there. I soon spotted a cluster of deputies, troopers and their vehicles and decided to head that way; finding them was a matter of quick guesswork, and I was lucky for once.

Detectives, deputies and troopers were searching along Route 460 and in the neighborhoods adjoining the shopping center. The undergrowth in that area is thick and the hot weather added to the discomfort.

Jon and I lingered until it became plain there was nothing new to learn and headed back to Bluefield. I worked on the bank robbery and some other stories until we heard about a crash on Cheesy Creek Road off Route 460. It sounded serious, so I headed for the scene. Oftentimes the best way to get information is to start driving; it saves you a frustrating game of phone tag.

After a wrong turn and a detour into Oakvale, I found Cheesy Creek Road and soon found the right spot; there was a line of traffic backed up from the crash site. Nobody was moving, and there were no places to park. I turned on my hazard flashers, grabbed my pad and camera, and started walking. Fortunately, it was close. In the job, we often find ourselves doing things we normally would never consider. Leaving your car in the middle of a road is one of them.

After getting some photos and taking to the deputy investigating the incident, I talked to some of the bystanders; they can really add to a story. A couple of ladies told me that speeding was a problem in their community. I’ve seen that a lot on our roads. People who aren’t familiar with a road tend to go the speed limit; if they know the road and they’re careless, they fly. One lady said the posted speed limit was 35 mph, but drivers often go twice that — or more.

I called the newsroom to let News Editor Andy Patton know we had a story and some photos, and hiked back to my car. I was wondering how the heck I was going to get turned around, but the other drivers had left more than two car lengths between my car’s front and back; maybe they thought I was an emergency vehicle. I’m mistaken for somebody “official” all the time. At the bank, a reporter from one of the television stations asked me if I worked for the bank; wearing a tie and carrying a notepad gives you an official aura.

By the end of the day, I had driven about 70 miles and walked two or three miles. During a major story like a flood, it’s possible to clock even more miles, and all the reporters here at the Daily Telegraph have some thousands of miles on them.

Today might be a steady day, but one crackle of the scanner could throw a day’s schedule into the trash can. It’s one of those things that make life interesting.

Greg Jordan is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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