Monthly Archives: July 2012

From nothing to too much

Wednesday morning started out with very little on my schedule, and nothing visual on the budget for either of our section fronts.  Let me start with the last part, the most interesting part, of my day first;  after leaving work at the end of my shift, I was heading to Taylor Pond to go fishing with my youngest son Chris when I heard a call on the scanner for a bad accident just a few miles away from where I was.  The other photographer still working was out-of-town at a baseball game, so I decided to check it out.  I had already worked an hour and a half over my scheduled shift, but I am a news junkie and can’t help myself.  My oldest son Ryan and his girlfriend Amanda had taken Chris out to the pond already, so I knew they would be swimming and not be too upset that I would be even later.  They are used to it.  I shot this photo below, and some other photos from the scene, and then headed to catch some fish.  I would send the photos from home when I got back from fishing.   Not much luck fishing at the pond, only a couple of medium bass, but my internet fishing proved much luckier.  I had this great photo, but no names.  I often approach people at a scene and talk to them.  Some, like this, I know better not to.  They were too shaken up and I did not want to upset them even more at the time.  I could have waited until cops, firefighters and the lot left the scene and they were calmed down a bit, but I needed to get to the pond.

When I got back home, I used my ever so useful tool, Facebook.  More journalists use this as a reference than you think, or admit.  Like many other sources, it is a starting point, but any information garnered there needs validation.  By the time I got back, reporter Chris Williams had the name of the female driver involved.  But which one was she.  I found her on Facebook, but still was not certain, even with her photos posted.   Lucky me,  she was friends with two of my friends.  I contacted one of them and he knew immediately which one she was, and as an added bonus, knew two of the other three in the photo.  My other source corroborated the information, so I felt confident enough to publish the information.

My first assignment of the day was to shoot some pretty boring photos for the biz page.  One was the empty lot where the landmark Auburn Lanes bowling alley once stood, and the other was demolition and construction of a new, and much-needed parking lot at Roopers, formerly Florians Market just down the street in Auburn.


I came back to the office, went to the budget meeting where I found out we had no stories that had any visual potential, so it was going to be another day of looking for feature photos for the front page, local section and weather.  I hoped for some spot news.  I headed out and no sooner than I pulled out of the parking lot, a call for a porch fire on Wood Street came over the scanner.  Only a block away, I decided to check it out and arrived before any police or fire units.  It was put out “by a Tupperware bowl” said one of the residents.  She quickly retreated into her apartment when she noticed my camera.  When the firefighters rolled up, I hoped to make some sort of photo.  No sooner than they get out of their trucks,  one of them says,  “hey Russ, flames reported at another apartment building on Walnut Street.”  We both jump into our vehicles and head over to Walnut.   It’s actually on Howe Street, and again, extinguished already by a resident.  Ironic, both small porch fires, both started by smoking material improperly discarded, and both put out by bowls of water.

After shooting this, I headed home for a quick sandwich and then back to the office to check emails and hopefully a reporter had come up with a story we could shoot.  Nada.  I heard a call of something going on in Turner, so headed out that way.  I couldn’t find anything there, so I cruised around, looking for something.  I checked out the bridge in Turner for kids jumping into the Nezinscott, nobody there.  Checked out a swimming hole with a tree swing editor Mark Mogensen had just told me about, nobody.  I drove the shore of Wilson Pond.  Couple old people sunning themselves, nope.  I kept driving and found myself crossing into Minot.  I thought, why not swing past Hemonds Motorcross.  I thought I saw an ad someplace that they were racing this weekend, so somebody might be practicing.  Lucky me, there were people there.  But the guy I ended up getting the best photo of was not racing this coming weekend.  He told me it was the first time back on his bike since he broke both legs in a car accident.  I later went back to the office and checked our files.  Sure enough, I had covered the accident on Elm Street in Mechanic Falls where two young adults died.  He barely survived.  A good story and a great photo I thought was good enough to anchor page 1.

By the time I am done editing all these photos, it is way past the end of my shift and I head to Taylor Pond to swim and fish with my boys.


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End of a long, loud and tough working weekend

Friday night’s late race at OPS didn’t see me arriving at Sunday River until nearly 11:00.  Up early and out on the course for a day full of mud, water and walking.  The Tough Mountain Challenge lived up to it’s name not only on the course, but for me, the toughest part was wrestling with an unfamiliar computer and software.  Not only was the downloading and rendering of the raw video time consuming, I way, way, overshot, having over 100 clips to edit.  The software and interface was much slower than I was used to and it took nearly 4 hours to edit, and then another 2 to upload and embed into our newspaper’s software. What a night.  It was nearly midnight before I finished and turned off the lights.  Up and out the door this morning and off to Oxford Plains Speedway for the biggest race of the year, the TD Bank 250.  Despite that fact that I was the only person covering the race, it went well.  Lots of walking, dust and dirt flying all over the place and wicked loud noise.  The race went off without a hitch, and it was one of the fastest I have ever covered, finishing up early, allowing me to get back to the office and edit my video, post it and now I’m ready to go home and take a much needed shower.  Check out the video here.Image

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Tough Man Challenge lives up to its name on and off the course

Yesterday’s Tough Mountain Challenge at Sunday River (click here to watch the video I shot) was a thing of beauty, in so many ways, but one incident left a sour taste in my mouth the rest of the day, and still does not sit well.  The weather, the course, the people.  Everybody was having a great time.   I was having a great d    ay at the office, my mobile office, that is.  All was well until I invaded the personal space of a guy shooting video that didn’t like me “getting in his way.”  He went off on me,  slapping my camera away and yelling profanities at me.  He made a scene,  and I felt bad.

After a minute of calming down,  I considered confronting him about it. Because, in fact, and I have it on video if he ever wanted to challenge me on it.  Minutes prior to his going off on me, this guy  steps right through my shot while I was shooting the previous obstacle.   There were 16 obstacles on the course, and it was at the number 4 where I walked up and noticed him shooting the entrance of a tunnel.  I chose to go to the exit, didn’t want to screw up his shot, it was a tight area.  I set  up and began shooting people coming through.  A few minutes later he comes down the trail and right through my shot.

I didn’t think much of it as this  happens all the time when I go to events where it’s a media circus.  Today was no different, except there were many more “regular folks”  shooting their family and friends competing.   So, I was aware of not trying to get into their shots either, but it happens now and again.  No big deal.  For most.  He was young, as I was once a long while ago.  After three decades I now let things slide where I too might have “gone off” on an old guy poaching my shot back in the day.  I totally understand.

That was yesterday, today is another day and while he is probably just getting to edit his shoot, mine was online yesterday and now I am at Oxford Plains Speedway shooting the big race, rubbing elbows with another set of photographers and videographers.    I know most of these guys,  seasoned professionals that will all be squeezing together in the sweaty press box and on top of the roof where we are elbow to elbow.

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Lame promotion and overindulgence

I have covered at least half of the media promotions for the upcoming TD Bank 250.   It’s a big deal for short track car racing, right here at our local track in Oxford, attracting the likes of Kyle and Kurt Busch, the Wallace family, Kenseth, Labonte, home grown Ricky Craven and even an Earnhardt that didn’t make the cut a few years ago.  The first few were great, lots of food, cars racing around the track; lots of visuals.   Even though the NASCAR stars have not arrived yet, there is always a race car zipping around the track to make for good visuals, and always some good chow after to chew on and talk with the local racers about how they felt about going up against the “big guns.”

In the past few years, it has moved away from Oxford and into the Portland area where it is more enticing for local TV stations to come and get a quick sound byte and a visual of a car that was built locally for one of the NASCAR regulars.

I remember laying on the hood of the car that young stud driver Jeremy Whorff, whose father had won the race in years past and was building cars for the NASCAR guys, hanging out the door, steering the car out of the trailer for the photo op at Verillo’s in Westbrook.  He was hoping to just qualify for the upcoming race.   I got a great shot, it ran big on the sports page, and three days later, the unknown, young buck, kicked the butts of everyone and won the damn race.  How cool was that.  The reverse Sports Illustrated jinx I thought.  Just a little more insignificant.  But in my world, cool beans.  Fast forward to today.

I left for the press conference scheduled for today, yesterday, today is long gone,  at 11:00 in Portland , right after an interview I had for an upcoming photo column, another story for another day.  I stopped in the office to spam out some emails I did not have a chance to whip up previously.  A call over the scanner about a car upside down tweaked my ear.  “Can you check that out on your way to the media day, it’s right on the way”  said my editor Judy Meyer.   I told her that the press conference was in Portland, not Oxford, so it was not on my way, not in Oxford, but in Portland.   I told her that I would check it out anyway and probably make it before the end of the media day.

A quick shot of the SUV on it’s side, got some info on what happened, no injuries, and I was on my way.

Getting to the press conference late, I did not see the car they always had as a prop for backgrounds and some visual for the photogs.   Thought I missed it.  Nope.  Never had one.  Days g0ne bye, there were cars to shoot, food to eat and even some bling to take home.   In today’s world, nada.  Just some local drivers and a couple past champions for a quick sound byte for the TV guys.  To hell with the print guys.  Even though we are there long before the race, cover the race from soup to nuts, and more.  No money to be made from us.  Or so they think.  Not so Bill.  A debate for another time.

I get to drive all the way to Portland for a few guys standing around talking, with only a TD Bank building as background.  Bogus.  Everyone is on a tight budget I guess.  Photos suck, but I’m on the clock.

Driving back into LA, I hear on the scanner a call for a big gas leak and head over.  Shoot that and head back to the office to process everything I have shot already, plus I need to dig up over a dozen past OPS 250 winners for a preview story we are doing.  I am tasked with all the file photos, another FUBAR,  I will touch on at a later date.  Before I know it, it is 5:00 and my son Kevin is calling, wondering where I am.   I had promised earlier that I would take our surrogate son to his basketball game across the river.   Just then, I am asked to take a photo of Mark LaFlamme pretending to meditate, for an illustration for this weekend.   Shoot that in record time, get home, drive Scotty to his game and hurry home to pack up the car with gear to head to Taylor Pond with two of my other boys.

I do not tell them that I am supposed to meet my Class of 78 friends who have come back to town for an informal reunion  in an hour and a half.   After all, what is more important.  I pull my GoPro helmet camera out and we get some great video of each other swimming, watch the biggest eagle I have ever seen snag a fish from the lake a few hundred yards away and dunk each other in the water.   Priceless.   We have gone so many times this year, we cool off and they are soon hungry and bored.  Back in the car, mom is home cooking a late dinner and I jump in the shower.

Walk to the Blue Goose, meet up with the crew and talk about old times and catch up.  The details may come later, if I can remember them.  The rest of that story will have to wait.  I was walking Freddie and Dana out the door when Justin Pelletier, a young stud in our newsroom came walking in with some friends.  I had some off the wall conversations with them, and then a young, very well connected, talented and popular kid I have taken photographs of over the past 10 years says hi and we talk about politics, LA, and if it is a good idea to stay here or try to make a life for himself somewhere else.  I give him my thoughts, tell him I have been at the Goose with my old drinking buddies for the past few hours, so take what I have said  with a grain of salt.

I live a few blocks away, had the foresight to leave my car at home and walk to the Goose, so I head home.  When I get home, the woman who loves me only for the love I give her and the food I provide comes running up to me with nothing but love and expectation in her eyes.  She can’t wait.  Waiting all day for it actually.  I  grab some bags,  her leash, and my four legged girlfriend head out the door, at 1:11  AM.  After a walk through Bates,I am home, starting to write my blog, and now, three in the morning, finally ready for bed.  My court case in Farmington at 8 has been postponed, so I don’t have to leave at 6:30.  Thank goodness.   Talk to you later.

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Turner Fatal accident

ImageEvery time I have to go to a fatal accident, I can’t help think about the what if’s.  There have been many books, poems, stories and movies written about how people’s lives are often changed by a decision that changes their lives.  My friend Mark LaFlamme has a story about a woman who obsessed about her son being killed.  If she had not bent over to pick up that penny, everything would be different.  Her son would not have died because the time it took her to do that, she would not have been driving under the overpass at the time the piece of concrete fell off and went through her windscreen, killing him instantly.  What if.  What if Susan Fortier had taken another second to adjust her radio….or…or…or…All the what if’s. Same with Mr. Chabot, driving the truck that hit her.

We have broken away from the pack at the Sun Journal by not allowing just anybody to comment on our stories.  We have had far fewer comments than others, but our conversations are more civil and intelligent for the most part.  I have started adding my comments to some stories, especially when others are either spreading misinformation, have facts wrong, or are just seeking more information.  Following is a comment I posted shortly after others started commenting about this accident, speculating and somewhat accusatory.

In the initial story we published online, we reported that Mr. Chabot was traveling in the middle lane, designated for turning only, as that is was some witnesses said. Later I was told that some said he was not. From the skid marks, it appears he was not, but he could have started to swerve to the right to try avoiding the car pulling out in front of him, and by the time he applied his brakes, he had traveled out of the turning lane. Or, the tractor trailer that was turning could have been in the gigantic breakdown lane and Mr. Chabot was indeed in the travel lane all the time. The state police reconstruction teams are really good at what they do and with the evidence and eye witness accounts, I am pretty confident they will figure out exactly what happened. One thing for certain is that there was a tragic loss of life. I have seen so many of these over the past 30 years I have been a photojournalist, but it still breaks my heart when I am at a scene like this. Perhaps the woman had a mechanical issue with her car, she could have missed the brake and hit the gas instead. However, I would not be surprised if it was just a case of not exercising enough caution. Driver inattentiveness, distractions, and being in a hurry seems to be a factor that is causing more and more accidents these days. Folks, take a little more time, caution and care when driving. As the saying goes, “the life you save, may be yours.” My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the woman who lost her life today…… here to read the full story

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Out of breath skidder run

On my way into work yesterday, two days ago now, I heard a call on my scanner that police were being dispatched for a woman on River Road calling in saying she can hear a man yelling for help in the woods behind her house.  I headed in that direction, could be something.  I hear one cop giving directions to another that he is about 300 feet in the woods with a man trapped under his skidder.  I pressed a little more on the gas and arrived shortly after. Getting out of my car, I can hear them yelling, the skidder still running.  I try to find a path through the woods, but there is none, just downed branches and logs, a stream to cross and lots of slash.  Too much gear to take everything, so I opt for my video bag and head in.  At one point I had to roll over a pile of slash as I was waist deep in it.  About half way there I hear the skidder shut off.  I turn on my camera.  Glad I chose not to wear shorts.  Check out the video here.Image

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Sunday River golf and swim

First ever visit to the Sunday River golf course and I was impressed.


Shot the final round of the Maine Amateur and was glad they gave me a cart.  We, the members of the media, are not allowed to drive ourselves as in years past some balls have been run over.  I can see that happening and just as well.  Not knowing the course, it was a blessing.


From there I had to find a feature photo for possible use on the front page as we didn’t have much in the way of stories to illustrate.  I remembered the covered bridge on the Sunday River, was only a mile or so from the access road, so I headed over there.  As I was driving up, a family was packing up their car with tubes and swim gear.  Bummer.  A few other cars in the area, so I ventured down the path, only to find a young couple embracing on a sand bar.  I headed back to my car and about to go look elsewhere.  Just then, another car pulled up and four kids with tubes and bright swim suits came gushing out.  Mom was ok with me taking pix, so I hung around until they walked upstream and floated down.   Image

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Crash, burn and cooking vegan

On my way to the office for the start of my night shift Monday I no sooner turned on my scanner than a call came in for an additional firetruck to go to the scene  to help contain fuel being spilled and heading to the storm drains.  At L-A Harley.    I had nothing scheduled until  later, so I headed that way.  When I arrived, I will not lie.  I was excited.  A motorcycle was crushed under the wheels of a truck.  What a great photo.  Morbid perhaps.  But for a photojournalist, a moving, well not really, but stunning imagery.  I could tell at once nobody was seriously hurt.  The demeanor of the police and firefighters is a dead, pardon the pun, giveaway.   I shot, talked to firefighters and cops, bystanders, employees and the like.  Shot some more and waited until there was a moment when the drivers were done talking with the police and firefighters.  I approached them with my camera not pointing in their face, and managed to talk to both drivers and got information for a caption.  The driver of the bike said the sun was in his eyes and he thought the truck was turning left, so he went to pass on the right.  He made an assumption and paid the price.  He is lucky to be alive.

While skulking around, waiting for one of them to put a hand on his head or face, or  some other more dramatic moment, I got a call from a fellow Sun Journal employee.  They were having mechanical difficulties with their vehicle and asked if I could come over and help.  I hung out at the scene for a few more minutes.  Documenting a scene like this is akin to covering a baseball game.  You might get your best photo in the first inning, but stay the entire game hoping for a better one.  I had some great shots already, but might have gotten a better one.  I stayed a little longer, but didn’t get what I was looking for.  I was focusing so long on trying to get one of the drivers, preferably Don Morris, the lucky one who was riding the bike, hoping he would  express some emotion that would have put the photo over the top.  But that didn’t happen.  I did see the irony of the Ride Safe logo on the license plate and shot a closeup.

The first comment from a reader online said that photo told the story best.  It is a wicked literal photo.

I helped my colleague with their car issue and headed to the office where I uploaded the photos to the website and headed to CMMC where I shot a video and photos of a class about eating better that will be our Eats for this Sunday’s B section.  I learned about the benefits of a vegan diet and was entertained by a former Soviet bloc cook who has traveled the world and for a month, for free, show anyone interested, how to eat better and have it taste good.

About 10 minutes into it, I got a call from Judy Meyer, managing editor days, and a great boss, talented writer, editor and champion of freedom of the press, telling me there is a possible structure fire, but will call back if it turns out to be bad, so don’t go yet, but can you scoot if needed.  Of course.  Don’t worry about it came the call 5 minutes later.  Five after that, it might be something, can you check it out when you get done.

I did and in the middle of shooting that, a call for smoke coming from Blake Street Towers.  Race there and while getting out of my car there, a call for possible smoke coming from Bates Mill.  I can see smoke for sure coming from Blake Street, so I start shooting.  Some trucks diverted to the mill, but later the caller reporting the Bates Mill fire calls back and says it just the smoke from the towers.   Unlike the TV guys who tend to stay in one place, I walk around the entire building and get a variety of different scenes playing out.

Head back to the office, process the lot, and get ready to punch out a few minutes early.  Call it not getting a lunch break.  An eventful, but short shift for a change.  Just then a friend, knowing I am late guy, calls and  says “nice night for a bike ride, ya think!”

Monday night’s I usually get home when everyone is calling it a night anyway, it could not be any better weather,  I did not get to the gym today, ok.   What a perfect night for a ride through LA.   A minute before midnight I get home and my oldest son Ryan is just going to bed.  I say goodnight and tell him I am taking Allie for a walk.  His eyes open wide, sits up and says.  “I’m coming, I want to spend some time with you dad.”   We have gone on hundreds of walks with the dog, many late at night.  But both of us know they will be coming to an end soon as he is heading off to boot camp at the end of the summer.  I am so proud of him, happy for him, and am confident he will do great things.  But damn if I won’t miss my son.  A great way to end my day.

Of all the images I have from today, the one that will last the longest is the look in Ryan’s eyes when he shot up from his bed with a big smile on his face, wanting nothing more than to spend time with me.

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