After yesterday’s post on local TV coverage of the public execution of Guy Ray III at a National City Bank, I heard from several folks, including the chief videographer for WHAS-TV, Dan Chesser. One aspect of the event I may have overlooked is the toll it takes on those whose job it is to record such events. Videographers don’t appear on camera, but they’re often the first to arrive on crime scenes and the first to see blood spilled. But think about how unusual, and unnerving, it must be to see an individual get killed through a camera’s lens.
Viewers got a sanitized version of the event, spared the blood spurting from Ray’s body, but for Chesser, who was shooting from the station’s helicopter, and Ron Johnson, 70 yards away on the ground, the scene will likely stay with them for many years. I asked Chesser if I could publish some of his thoughts about the events, and here’s what he wrote:
I was in the helicopter yesterday. I had seen this scenario play out many times before over the years. We all expected to see this guy to come out with his hands up, be surrounded by police and carted off. I had caught video of the robot delivering White Castles and then decided this was going to take awhile if they were sending in food. But then we knew from the scanner traffic in the newsroom that things were winding down just before noon. After the four hostages were released, things moved quickly. The pilot was flying figure eight patterns so that we could see both the side and rear doors without going around the whole building. When you fly this way, the skids on the helicopter will get into your shot as the helicopter passes your axis. When that happens, you lose your subject for a moment and from close to ¾ mile away, it takes a couple of seconds to regain your bearings. The pilot has just made his turn and the skid cleared my shot and I zoomed in to reframe the shot when we saw Guy exit the bank. The next ten seconds will always be etched in my memory. We both could not believe what we witnessed. The camera is always in high speed shutter in daylight to sharpen the images. The streaks of red seem to show four to five feet in front of Guy as he fell to the ground. Toward the end, something flew away from Guy and landed on the ground several feet away, never figured out what that was.
I didn’t know until later that Ron was so close and got the scene as well. As the news hour was about over, I heard through the radio in Sky11 that Ron was not feeling well afterward. When we landed at Bowman Field, I drove over to the scene and found Ron. What he had witnessed and the heat together was getting the best of him. We sat in the truck and decompressed for a few moments. We both in our careers had never witnessed something like this before. We both agreed that we hope that we never will again.
I was not involved in the decision making process to show the video but feel that the station handled things properly. Viewers needed to be able to see that Guy was leaving that bank at that moment to die.