When the "S%^£T Hits the Fan…" 12•Nov.•09

A full day of news coverage in 3 parts.
Part 1: “You play like you practice…” Another one of those mantras ingrained in my mind where I sometimes remind myself to sort of step into this mindset when faced with “the big one.” Especially when the big one involves a bust of a major drug running ring here in the area, and then to cap it all off, literally running to the scene of a motorvehicle accident, where a police cruiser collided with two school buses later in the afternoon. It was some day, like one I haven’t worked in a long, long time. It all began the night before – fortunately in the newsroom where our court reporter and I went over the particulars of the narcotics raid that would take place beginning Thursday morning. Acting on a tip actually helped put our team in place at the local police HQ (above) and at the county courthouse – as we were told there’d be “major arrests” in this case. It was the culmination of a two-year undercover investigation by various law enforcement agencies. My day on Thursday begun before 5AM and I was in place by 6AM at a local PD HQ. I’ve included this image in recapping the day as it’s also a “locator” image or the dreaded “real estate” image we’re continually asked to make while out in the field. This image of PD HQ at dawn serves as sort of a confirmation of my being on scene, as the in-camera ITPC info will also confirm it. Looking back after two days, it’s easy to recall all the little things that are sort of a mandatory way of doing things when preparing for a day like this. Set up the coffee maker the night before. Wear long underwear or fleece lined pants. Remember to eat and drink something. After sitting in our cars for nearly two hours, we finally got word the arrests were happening and the suspects were being brought to the State Police barracks a few towns away. Hustling down the Interstate to the NYSP or
“SP” (NY State Police) barracks brought the reporter and I to scene like I hadn’t seen since my days of working in NYC and covering similar big arrests. Marked and unmarked “SP” vehicles were arriving with upwards of 40 individuals to be processed and then transported to the county courthouse, where our second team of a photographer and writer were stationed. Both of us at the scene were pretty amazed and after a briefing by an high ranking agent from the AG’s office (State Attorney’s Office in Albany) on who we could photograph, we’d end up standing outside for 3+ hours as the suspects in custody were literally ferried into the barracks. I remember paying close attention as arriving troopers organized the waist restraints and leg shackles (left) each time an empty van would pull up to transport more suspects. It was almost chilling to hear the rattle of those chains in the crisp air. What would make this all a satisfying morning of coverage for us was waiting for the ringleader of the crew to be “walked” out of the barracks. I knew that was going to be my “money shot” (below). This was a local crew that had been coordinating narcotics shipments from Canada, Arizona, Florida, and the Dominican Republic and distributing the drugs throughout our region in the Hudson Valley.

What also made all this especially rewarding professionally was that the two local cable TV stations came and went, so no other media organizations even got any footage on the main subject. I’m sure these will be images that will be used again in other stories on this crew that included women, a married suburban couple, and men of varying ages. I must’ve photographed nearly 30 of the 37 subjects that were booked and transported that morning.

Click the following links to view our coverage of the story and a slideshow .

Part 2: “Covering the Presser …”
After finishing up at the SP Barrack and with about an hour and a half to to begin the editing process, we headed back to the original location where the law enforcement big-wigs would hold a press conference at 1:30PM (right). That gave us an hour or so to get back to the original Town Hall / Police HQ complex, as I was told by the desk to cover the press conference. Stopping at a nearby coffee shop with reliable wi-fi, I did a quick edit and moved 18 images of the “perp walks” and the reporter was able to feed info to his desk editors by phone. We both had hot sandwiches and warmed up a bit, before heading to the “presser.” This is when the law enforcement types could show off the some of the seized items from the case, explain all the details, charges, and background of some the individuals arrested in the case. Remember this was the culmination of a two year investigation.
These “Dog & Pony” shows usually provide for good visuals of the “products” so I usually try to make a few detail images, etc. (right). It’s not that often that even we in the press get to see thousands and thousands of dollars in cash, pounds of marijuana, cocaine and illicit prescription drugs. I remember commenting to a TV cameraman as the troopers were clearing the table, “I can’t remember the last time I’ve even seen 10 Grand in cash – certainly not mine…”

Part 3: “Police Car vs. Schoolbus MVA!”

While the reporter I were comparing our notes on the case, looking over the provided press release from the presser, and planning on how we’d finish this already long day, something extraordinary happened again. Spot News! As I was sitting in the car and pumping up the heater, the EMS pager I carry as well as the work cell phone were screaming. “Where Are You…? We have a serious head-on MVA (motor vehicle accident) involving a police car and a school bus…!” Great I’m thinking. Another traffic jam I’ll have to fight thru and the scene will be secured by the time I get there. Leaving the town hall complex and driving quickly along a few back roads, I sort of got the feeling that this could still be big scene – as town police, EMS and other vehicles sped by me, including officers from the press conference were we all just left. (In the old days in NYC, I’d literally be able “lock” my bumper on the rear of a fire truck or EMS ambulance to race behind them to a scene…) Arriving near the strip mall shopping center after zig-zagging through stopped traffic, I was forced to park about a half mile away in an adjacent parking lot, and hustle to the scene on foot. Fortunately I could see the flashing lights. You kind of get an idea that it’s going to be a bad scene and it’s still “working” when there are plenty of bystanders / onlookers with their generic hand-over-mouth poses, and plenty of crime scene police tape blocking off all traffic at the intersection into the Shop-Rite plaza.
I moved through the main scene with the wrecked police cruiser while the EMS techs worked on the driver, still on a backboard on the ground beside the car (right). Pausing to make a few overall and tight images from a good distance with the 70mm – 200mm, and more importantly not wanting to attract any attention to myself, I analyzed the area as quick as I could. Finally one plainclothes individual gave me the obvious “Get outta here!” in a very authoritative tone. Knowing from experience you never challenge the on-scene guys at something like this, and knowing I had a few usable images “in the can”, I replied, “Can I go this way and make the bus…?” I got some sort of mumbled reply, so I headed up the road a bit to photograph one of the two wrecked school buses that this officer’s car had collided with. All the town police and SP on the scene knew I was the local press photographer, as most had just seen me at the drug bust presser minutes earlier. I think I was at the scene no more than 10 minutes, as I wanted to get home and start the editing process all over again from the presser and now this MVA. Within an of the hour of the accident, I’d moved four photos to the paper, and finished the edit of the press conference and had another 6 or 8 images sent in by 6PM or so.

Looking back, it was the rarest of a full news day, and while seated at my kitchen table completing yet another detailed look through the day’s take and a brief re-edit of the images, I felt myself nodding off. Spoke to an AP photographer in their Albany bureau about the drug raid, sent congratulatory text messages to our “team” who covered the arrests and courthouse scene, and spoke to the news desk editor a few times about how the images were going to be “played” in the paper and on the website. By 9PM or so I was totally spent. Finished. Mush. On this day, I’d left it all on the field, so to speak… -cg.

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