CORBIN — By John Ross / Staff Writer
Sometimes I’m two people.
That’s the way it can happen in this profession — and it was again put to the test for me yesterday.
I heard about an accident concerning a train possibly hitting a pedestrian — I learned the location, and took to the street.
It took some time for me to get to the right location — but I did, and I parked out of the way of emergency crews as I always do.
That’s one of the two people I am sometimes — I have a job to do.
I looked around for which emergency folks were on hand, and made some general notes about the scene itself.
Then I started a pilgrimage along the tracks to get some pictures of the folks working at the scene. I do not take pictures of anything disturbing — I just show what I can to get the point across through the picture.
While walking, I met up with a Laurel County sheriff’s deputy, and it was requested for me to move on farther away from the scene (I was already several hundred feet away) — and I started walking back with him.
We were just talking, when I looked up and saw who I later learned was the girlfriend of the victim.
She wanted to know what happened. “Please talk to me,” she pleaded.
I stood there, silent — I already knew what she was about to hear.
And when she heard the news — her grief was instant.
Her screams pierced my heart — and I found myself swallowing to control my own emotions.
That’s the other of two people I am sometimes.
I can’t speak for all reporters — people handle this situation in this job in a myriad of ways.
But I handle it my way.
I got my information. I got my pictures. And I tried my best to comfort this poor woman as she dealt with her grief. As I helped to steady her I let her know she was leaning on “some old newspaper reporter” as we walked back — and was thankful to see her family there to embrace her in love and provide support she needs.
It was a devastating scene to watch unfold — and it will remain a devastating part of her life forever.
It’s not the first time I’ve been handed this situation, and I always try to deal with it in the same manner.
When I worked for a newspaper in eastern North Carolina, I missed seeing a deadly truck crash by mere minutes.
I was actually en route to be a part of a scuba-dive rescue team for a practice drill with newly-purchased equipment on the lake.
I ended up passing the firefighters I was supposed to meet — the truck’s lights were whirling and the siren was blaring — and I did a U-turn to try to follow them.
About five miles or so away from the point I met with the fire truck, I made it back to an intersection I had earlier turned through on the way to the lake.
It was a scene of chaos.
Vehicles were stopped in both directions. Debris was scattered through the intersection, along the ditch and into the field.
Still in the road was a crumpled GMC truck — emergency crews were trying to extricate the driver from that vehicle.
The passenger had suffered serious injuries and was already on the way to the hospital.
Other emergency crews were covering up the man driving the other truck involved — a small Datsun.
In the crash, the deceased victim’s truck literally broke in half — and the man was more than 1,000 feet past the wreckage of his truck, lying face-down in a ditch.
On the other side of the road were more than 20 members of this man’s family — they were all in various states of grief.
I wanted to reach out to them, but they were getting violent with law enforcement because it took more than three hours for the coroner to arrive at the scene.
But my heart went out to them, too.
I have hugged people watching their homes and possessions destroyed by fire — I stood with a man, crying, who lost some of his family in raging flood waters — I have beaten paths through FEMA camps to talk with folks who lost everything from Hurricane Floyd.
The stories stay with me. The scenes are burned into my memory.
The people are in my heart.
And while I love this work and being a reporter — I am a human being first.
John Ross is a staff writer for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.