Despite massive flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew, NC newspapers keep readers informed

Fair Bluff is a small town in southeastern North Carolina. The News Reporter, based in the nearby town of Whiteville covered the devastating flooding that occurred in the region. Photo by Allen Turner

Fair Bluff is a small town in southeastern North Carolina. The News Reporter, based in the nearby town of Whiteville covered the devastating flooding that occurred in the region. Photo by Allen Turner

By Teri Saylor

Note: This article was first published in Publishers’ Auxiliary, the monthly publication of the National Newspaper Association

When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory interrupted a soggy North Carolina State University football game to declare a state of emergency on October 8, circumstances got very real for residents and businesses in low-lying areas from the coastal plain to the Sandhill region in the south central part of the state. Kyle Stephens, a group publisher who oversees five weekly northeastern North Carolina newspapers in the Cooke Communications family was perched in the stands at Carter-Finley Stadium in an unrelenting downpour with his father and sister watching the NC State Wolfpack battle it out against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on a field that more closely resembled a slip and slide than a turf-covered gridiron.

Weather forecasters had been predicting Hurricane Matthew for weeks, but hurricanes rarely adhere to predictions, and despite the fact that it was forecast to make a sharp turn and head out to sea without making landfall, it headed inland and stalled, dumping up to 15 inches of rain in some areas.

Four newspapers struggled mightily to fulfill their mission of publishing no matter what, and here are their stories.

The Times Leader, Grifton, N.C.

Kyle Stephens graduated from East Carolina University in 2002 with a degree in sports marketing and immediately landed a job selling ads for three small newspapers then owned by Cox Communications (now Cooke Communications) in eastern North Carolina. Reporting to Tim Holt, general manager of The Daily Reflector in Greenville, Cooke’s North Carolina flagship newspaper, Stephens was promoted to advertising director, then to publisher. Last April, he took over as publisher of two additional weeklies, bringing his total to five. The newspapers are The Times Leader in Grifton, The Farmville Enterprise, The Williamston Enterprise, the Bertie Ledger-Advance of Windsor, and The Standard Laconic of Snow Hill.

The Times Leader and the Bertie Ledger Advance were the only two newspapers in the group that flooded in Hurricane Matthew.

Stephens is headquartered in Grifton, a tiny town of about 2,000 residents. The town sits on the banks of Contentnea Creek, a picturesque waterway popular with canoers and kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The creek overflowed after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, flooding the town and leaving six feet of water in the Times Leader’s tiny building.

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The Grifton Times-Leader had to be gutted due to flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Kyle Stephens

 

When the state’s governor warned residents not to travel east of Raleigh, Stephens who was still watching the football game, left immediately. He knew Hurricane Matthew could be bad. Here is his story:

I made it back probably around 4 o’clock that afternoon, and at my house, the water had gotten into some of my duct work, so Sunday my wife and I cleaned up around the house, and we heard about how all the rivers and creeks were going to start rising, so we went over to the Times Leader and got all the computers and other equipment and put it in the back of my truck and put our bound volumes and other important things on top shelves. I sent up the computers in my living room at home on Monday morning, and my reporter Luke Simonds and I put out the Times Leader from my living room on Monday. It was very stressful.

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Kyle Stephens (left) group publisher for Cooke Publications’ eastern North Carolina newspaper group and reporter Luke Simonds write stories and conduct business on card tables in the front lobby of the Farmville Enterprise after sister paper, the Grifton News-Leader was flooded

The Times Leader is published along with the Farmville Enterprise and The Standard Laconic on Wednesdays. We bumped the deadline up from Tuesday at 5 p.m. to Monday at 5 p.m. The Daily Reflector, which prints them, wanted to get them delivered. At this point they were telling us we might not be able to make it out because all access points were going to flood.

The papers were printed in Greenville and delivered to the post office, but it was Friday before the subscribers received them. I couldn’t even get to my Grifton office for a week. We had three feet of water in the building. Most of what we lost, we didn’t need, but we did lose the furniture. All of the other things, like old photos, negatives, things like that had already been lost during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, so what they had in the building was just what they had not lost in 1999 and what they had accumulated since then.

At the Bertie-Ledger Advance, (about 65 miles north of Grifton), we had about nine inches of water inside that office. We basically did the same thing there that we did in Grifton. A couple of employees went over and got all the computers out before it flooded. They are working out of the Williamston Enterprise office now. I’m working on a card table at the Farmville Enterprise. I would say it is a safe bet we’ll be back in our newspapers by the end of the year.

I give a lot of compliments to my staff. Angela (Harne),  my group editor and Brenda Monty, a staff writer, moved in with the Chamber of Commerce director in Farmville for a few days after the Hurricane. We didn’t know if they’d be able to get here from their homes, so they brought a bag, tooth brush, change of clothes and stayed in town. I thought that was pretty cool.

Financially, this has been a good year for us. Some of my most successful products are the community magazines we produce. This flood reinforced the lessons I have learned throughout my time in the business. You have to publish the newspaper regardless of circumstances. There’s no excuse. You do what you have to do to get the newspaper out.

The Daily Reflector, Greenville, N.C.

To the naked eye, Greenville appeared to be recovering nicely from the flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew about 10 days after the storm. The town, home to 89,000 residents and East Carolina University, sits alongside the Tar River, which crested a full week after the hurricane blew past the state. While the newspaper itself was not directly impacted, the loss of a mailroom employee who was killed while seeking higher ground during the height of the storm has left general manager Tim Holt and his staff shaken. The Daily Reflector is Cooke’s flagship North Carolina newspaper. On the night of the hurricane, Holt was watching out for flashfloods that night and monitoring a small group of mailroom staff who were working that day. One employee, who made it home safely ventured out late at night with her husband to head for higher ground, got caught in a flash flood and drowned.

This one really hit home,” said Holt, who has been with the paper since 1988. He went on to describe how the newspaper coped and kept its readers informed during what he called the second worst flood in Pitt County’s history. Hurricane Floyd still tops the horror chart:

Our building was never in jeopardy. Our production facility is north of the flood plain, but all four of the access points have bridges, and if the flooding closed all of the bridges, we would not be able to get to the newspaper. In the end, two of the four bridges closed completely. A third bridge closed one lane. The other one remained open.

Our main problem was that many of our employees were directly affected by the flooding and couldn’t make it to work. The first week after the storm, the Daily Reflector combined its Tuesday and Wednesday newspapers and its Thursday and Friday newspapers, following a contingency plan that was in place.

The carriers made it to our building, but they were unable to make it to some parts of Greenville, and our main concern was for the safety of our employees. So we put out radio spots to communicate with our readers and the community with details on the flooding. Our readers depend on information in our newspaper for making decisions. We also kept the website current, and we noticed an increased use of the site with lots of unique visitors.

In North Carolina, Cooke Communications prints nine weekly newspapers and three dailies at our Greenville facility. Our contingency plan took those papers into consideration and the timing of the storm was in their favor. We got all of them printed and delivered to the post office.

Our senior management team and production team has been there since Hurricane Floyd, so we have a large group of senior managers and high level managers who have experience, and our folks responded in the way you hope you team will respond in a crisis: to work hard; work as a team, and keep our priorities in order.

Getting the newspaper out in times of hardship is critical for the public who depend on us. The newspaper provides a sense of normalcy, and assurances that everything is going to be okay.

The advice I would give is to take time in a moment of calm to determine what you would do if it is not so calm, and bring people together as a team rather than in a moment of panic.

The News Reporter, Whiteville, NC

When Hurricane Matthew hit, Les High, editor of his family-owned, twice weekly newspaper, The News Reporter of Whiteville, and his wife Becky were in Chapel Hill enjoying parents’ weekend with their daughters who are both students at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism. They waited until the rain stopped on Sunday, Oct. 9 before heading back to Whiteville, located in the southeastern corner of North Carolina near the South Carolina state line. Most of the roads that would take them home had washed out, but they found a way to get around the trouble spots, and managed to make it home. The Lumber River, which flows past Whiteville, flooded the downtown area, but stopped about two blocks from the newspaper’s office. High describes a wild scene when he got home:

We knew right away this was going to be a major news story. Unfortunately, power was out across the entire county, the newspaper included. So we called the staff from the road, and they were already working on stories.

In my 55 years, from the time I was a child growing up at this newspaper, we’ve never had a day that we missed printing the paper, and this was the first day we just were not able to do that. Through ice storms, hurricanes, power outages; we’ve always been able to print here. I called Patrick Noonan (operations director) at the Fayetteville Observer (located 56 miles away), and we arranged to have the paper printed there on Monday morning. The newsroom was at my house. I have a small generator and we were able to operate the lights and the refrigerator, and the reporters were able to work there. Becky made spaghetti for us on the gas grill, and we were writing stories and laying out the paper on a lap top.

Les High set up a newsroom at his house after the entire town of Whiteville lost power during Hurricane Matthew. High's home generator produced just enough electricity to lay out the News Reporter, his family's community newspaper

Les High set up a newsroom at his house after the entire town of Whiteville lost power during Hurricane Matthew. High’s home generator produced just enough electricity to lay out the News Reporter, his family’s community newspaper

We worked until about 2:30 a.m. We didn’t have Internet or cell service to send the pages to Fayetteville, so Jonathan Caprell, our graphics designer and IT guy loaded up. We had two external hard drives – one we took with us and the other we left behind in case we didn’t make it. We got in my jeep, and we were determined to make it to Fayetteville even though conditions were bad. We were almost there and thought we were going to be fine, but we hit a detour where the road had washed out, so we took back roads that I have never heard of, like Chicken Foot Road, County Line Road at 6 o’clock in the morning. It was pitch dark. We were coming around curves and having to slow down hard to avoid water covering the roads. We managed to get there right on time at 7:00 a.m.

We had 10 inserts for Monday’s newspaper, one of which was a 64-page Belk’s book. My sister, Stuart Rogers and her husband got up at 4:30 a.m. to rent a big U-Haul but the bed of the truck didn’t meet the height of our loading ramp so Stuart and her husband jury-rigged a ramp and spent two hours loading inserts into the back of the U-Haul to take to Fayetteville for inserting.

Our mailing machine was also down, and as soon as the papers came in from Fayetteville, we got a little team together and put more than 2,000 mailing labels on newspapers by hand. We peeled them off and put them on each newspaper.

The power came back on Monday night after the hurricane. In addition to the News Reporter, we print six to eight other newspapers here, and somehow, we got them all printed.

One thing I think we did a really good job with was ramping up our presence on our website. We made sure we had two complete updates: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We covered a lot of different things that people needed to know, and we did this on social media as well. Then as important news came up during the day, we’d have ongoing brief updates. I think we did a really good job of keeping people informed in that way.

We are in another phase of using our website and the paper to inform readers how to get help, such as where food distribution sites are or how to get in touch with FEMA. This will be an evolving story for a number of weeks.

We realized how dependent people are on social media, digital media and how important that was as part of our process. We didn’t have any coverage for 12 to 20 hours because everything was down, and so we were doing updates by phone. I called one of my daughters at UNC to help me post an important story because our cell service and data service was so bad and this critical story needed to get out. So I called her and she posted it to our website and social media from Chapel Hill.

You know, we live in these communities, and we have an important job to do. Most of our staff has worked here for decades, and they know our mantra. We’re going to get the newspaper out, whatever it takes.

Our reporter, Jeff Weaver, had 14 inches of water in his house, and an alligator that had washed up in his back yard was swimming around. It was a wild scene, and he had no power, but he was still working on stories. Clara Cartrette, a reporter who has been here almost 55 years had broken her hip some time ago, and had just returned to work. She was using a cane to walk downtown to do stories because she doesn’t want to do them by phone. Another reporter, Alan Turner, just had bladder cancer surgery and was out doing stories while wearing a catheter bag.

That’s the kind of people we have in community newspapers across the country. They know we have an important job to do and they’re going to stop at nothing to get it done.

The Robesonian, Lumberton, N.C.

Rick Thomason, publisher of The Robesonian of Lumberton is thankful for reporter Mike Gellatly, who immediately shut off the breakers in the newspaper office just hours before the nearby Lumber River overflowed its banks, flooding the entire town and most of the county. Lumberton is situated along I-95, about 30 miles north of Dillon, S.C. and is the county seat of Robeson County, where 33 percent of its 43,106 residents are considered to be living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates. When the Lumber River flooded after Hurricane Matthew, water seeped into the Robesonian’s building, rising to about 15 inches before draining out about 24 hours later.

The Robesonian is part of the Civitas group, and Thomason had been publisher there just six months before Hurricane Matthew struck. He describes a logistical nightmare:

For the better part of a week after the hurricane, most of the roads were washed out, and there was only one way in and one way out of town. When the power went out and the water started rising around, our editor, Donnie Douglas got out of town. And I know that doesn’t sound like the right thing to do, but ultimately it was. He ended up just outside of Charlotte, got a hotel room and stayed there for nine days. Donnie knows everybody in town, has everybody’s phone number, and he was able to stay in contact with everybody in this town that we needed to contact. We embedded our managing editor at the town’s hurricane command center. They allowed her in there, and pretty much gave her the run of the place. We had another reporter that was out of town, but she was working, making phone calls. We had plenty of folks sending us photos.

All of our desks, the computer towers that were on the floor, cubicles are ruined. We had to have four and a half feet of drywall cut out throughout our building. All the carpet was taken out. A few things you see sitting around on pallets are what was saved. The contents in the bottom two drawers of our filing cabinets are gone. We lost about 50 bound volumes of our archives. We saved what we could, but it wasn’t much.

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Rick Thomason edits the pages in a makeshift newsroom on The Robesonian’s loading dock.

We’ve got a staff working from our sister papers in Elizabethtown and Rockingham, all spread out. The reporters are working out of their homes. We host a graphics hub here that serves our entire company and employs 19 people. It was flooded and all those people are working from their homes.

I normally print five of our company’s papers here, but now they are being printed in Newberry, S.C. And Mount Airy, N.C. This flood has turned us from an afternoon newspaper to a morning newspaper because of changing delivery schedules and production times.

The logistics have been a nightmare. Pages aren’t done here. They are paginated from a hub in Ohio, and we’re dealing with re-routing pages. So we’ve got reporters here, and you’ve got the pagination hub up there. We do that every day, but with the flood, we’ve had to change deadlines, and that changes deadlines for stories, for graphics, for ads and for pagination. We’re printing in two separate places that are not used to printing us.

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The Robesonian’s press wears a raincoat as protection from floodwaters that persisted for days after Hurrican Matthew flooding.

We lost thousands of dollars’ worth of inserts in the flood. Tens of thousands. Maybe more than that. They were just ruined. But what we had and what we could get to, we did our dead level best to get into the papers. The inserts were still coming to us here, and we had to rent trucks and drivers to move them, we had to look ahead and decide which of them were supposed to go to Newberry and which of them were supposed to go to Mt. Airy where the papers were being printed.

The water came within an inch of getting in our press motor and the press is okay. I’m trying to find office space to put the newsroom and the ad staff back together at least, and eventually we’ll be able to move back into our building.

Because of the flood, we did not print for a week. We missed seven issues, and we’re a six-day paper. But we did publish the e-edition, and that actually worked out very well. We were updating the website all day and all night, almost like a wire service.

Readers have been exceptionally kind to us. Our Facebook numbers have been off the charts. We’ve gotten tons of positive feedback. Social media is working the way it should for journalism. People are asking a good questions that lead to a lot of good stories.

Civitas, our parent company, has been terrific. Very supportive. The gentleman that handles the insurance was here for the better part of the week. He is taking the burden off of me in dealing with the insurance, the restoration, the contractors so I can concentrate on trying to keep us as whole as we can be right now and trying to get the staff back whole as best we can and finding a space to work. This staff did really good work. They worked some long hours, and at times like this you find out what kind of staff you have. I’ve been real proud of the folks we have here, not only the news folks but the entire team. The ad staff has been hustling. The production crew, has worked under the worst conditions. Five of our staff lost their homes.

Advertising is down, and it’s going to be down for a while because you’ve got a lot of businesses that are going to be down. Until we have drinkable water again, the restaurants won’t open. It’s going to be a long haul for this town and this county. This is probably the poorest county in the state, so that was not a good starting point before this happened.

This has been the most overwhelming thing I have ever tackled in this business and I’m in my 37th year. I’ve been through hurricanes before, and snow storms and shootings and stabbings and hostage situations, but nothing like this.

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Standing Up For Social Justice: After Charlottesville 2017 rally, paralegal Heather Heyer leaves a legacy

Susan Bro stands next to a portrait of her daughter 2

Susan Bro stands next to a portrait of her daughter, Heather Heyer, who was killed during the Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017.

By Teri Saylor

(Note: This article first appeared in Carolina Paralegal News and Virginia Lawyers’ Weekly in November 2017. It is republished here at the anniversary of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.)

Charlottesville, VA – Four months after Heather Heyer was killed at a protest spawned by a white nationalists rally in Charlottesville, her mother still weeps.

In the offices of the Miller Law Group where Heyer worked as a paralegal, Susan Bro wipes away tears when she speaks of Violet, her daughter’s tiny Chihuahua, which has gone to live with Heyer’s best friend. Her voice cracks when she realizes she can’t remember some details of Heyer’s growing up years, including her fourth birthday. And when she recalls the events of that terrible day in August when she learned that Heyer had been struck and killed by a car driven into a crowd gathered near Charlotteville’s popular downtown pedestrian mall, she breaks down.

On August 12, Heyer, 32, had gone to downtown Charlottesville with a group of co-workers and close friends.  As the rally and counter protest appeared to be winding down, a Dodge Charger, driven by James Alex Fields, Jr. accelerated as it approached the group of counter protesters and plowed into them.  Heyer, who was hit at full force, died.

“Heather was just starting to believe in herself,” Bro said. “She was born with social justice in her soul, and she was just starting to learn that her voice was important.”

Heather Heyer was born May 28, 1985 into a marriage that was on the rocks.

“My husband and I had been separated twice already before Heather was conceived, and it was honestly, probably a last ditch effort to save the marriage,” Bro said. She and Mark Heyer separated for a third and final time when their baby daughter was five months old. Bro raised her and her older brother as a single mother, while attended classes at UVA and working to make ends meet.

Heyer was in a hurry to enter the world, coming in a rush, two weeks before her due date. Her left ear was malformed. The ear canal was present, but her skull covered it over, and when she was in the fifth grade, she started a series of operations to correct the deformity, which included skin grafts and bone grafts.

“It was a pretty big deal, and she always had that to overcome,” Bro said. “My dad had to help take care of her because I had just started my teaching job, and I couldn’t take off that much work.”

Heyer was raised in a modest trailer park in Ruckersville, a small rural crossroads about 20 miles north of Charlottesville, her mother said. “And she was considered white trash, but she was always feisty. Always a go-getter. She always stood up for other kids,” she added.

Mother inspired to take action

At 61, Bro is short in stature and wears wire-rimmed glasses. After she was thrust into the limelight when her daughter was killed, she adapted and quickly became comfortable in front of news cameras. During the MTV Awards, where she was invited to present the award for “best fight against the system” she wore her shoulder-length, wavy silver hair in a ponytail and spoke fiercely of her daughter’s commitment to fighting for her beliefs.

“I’m deeply moved to see people from all over the world be inspired by her courage,” Bro said at the awards show. Two weeks before, Bro had stood before a podium at her daughter’s memorial service and told the world “they tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what? You just magnified her.”

Later she said she wasn’t kidding when she proclaimed that Heyer’s death had magnified her voice, because news media from around the world descended on her single wide trailer.

“I mean they were knocking on my door constantly until we hired a PR firm,” she said. “I didn’t get but two or three hours a day when there wasn’t press either calling me, texting me, knocking on my door, calling my friends, calling my family. How they found everybody, I have no idea because we live out in the middle of nowhere. By then, I already had begun to see the huge impact her death made.”

Charlottesville is a college town and is known as a gateway to the Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Avoiding the interstate in favor of the state roads around the area makes for a scenic journey. Known for lush wineries, Charlottesville is a thriving tourist destination, and its gorgeous landscape provides a backdrop to a storied history, including a prominent Civil War legacy. The ongoing controversy over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee was the catalyst that brought a large group of white nationalists to Charlottesville from Ohio, Michigan and South Carolina last August. Fields, the man who drove the car that killed Heyer, is from Maumee, Ohio.

Protest gathers steam and turns deadly

The night before the deadly protest, the nationalists held a torch rally at the statue. Courtney Commander was there.

Commander, a friend and fellow paralegal with Heyer at the Miller Law Group, had shot videos at the torch rally and knew she had to stand with the counter protesters the next day, but before the protest even started, the city had proclaimed a state of emergency, because fights had already broken out. The rally was halted, but both the nationalists and counter protesters had converged on the pedestrian mall.

She dropped her son off at the home of Victoria Jackson, another Miller Law Group paralegal, rode downtown with co-worker Marissa Blair and Blair’s fiancée, Marcus Brown, and joined Heyer, who had driven by herself. Jackson, at home, watched the scene unfold across three different live feeds.

“It was like a war zone,” Commander said. “It was only 8 o’clock in the morning, and the nationalists were already out there with their flags and their guns. The rally wasn’t even supposed to start until around 12 or 1.”

Throughout the morning, the foursome avoided the ugly confrontations they witnessed, moving through the crowd and taking it all in from a safe distance. Then they rounded a corner.

“Me and Heather and Marissa and Marcus were all together. Heather was to the right of me when it happened,” Commander said. “Marcus got hit and Heather got hit. I was grazed on my knee and ankle when I got knocked down, and Marcus pushed Marissa out of the way. He was thrown over the car and tore ligaments in his ankle, and his tibia was shattered.”

Commander saw the car back up, and she started running. She ducked around a corner away from the hysteria and vomited. When she recovered she went in search of her friends and located Blair and Brown who were in an ambulance heading to a hospital. But she couldn’t find Heyer.

At home, Jackson feared Heyer was dead. Watching live footage on two phones and a tablet, she saw the car ram her co-worker. She saw the paramedics cut Heyer’s clothes off, and she watched them administer CPR.

After Heather Heyer's death flowers poured into the law firm

After Heather Heyer was killed, flowers and gifts piled up in the law office where she worked as a paralegal

One by one, Heyer’s friends and family realized that she would not be going home that day.

“Heather and I had a conversation about the rally that Friday,” Jackson said, wiping away tears. “I wanted to go, but I couldn’t because I don’t have a support system if something happened to me. I’m the only one that’s going to take care of my kids, so nothing can happen to me.”

Heyer discovers her passion as a paralegal

When it came to forging a career as a talented paralegal, Heyer was a late bloomer. She lacked ambition and could not think of anything she wanted to do for a living, her mother said.

“I said ‘Heather, you have to pick something,’ and she would say ‘I want to be a cat on a pillow. I don’t want to do anything,’” Bro said. “And then to see her pour her heart and soul into her paralegal job, I was really proud of her. This was the first time I saw her motivated to improve herself.”

Heyer was passionate, and that passion made her seem domineering and challenging, Bro said.

“She was constantly doing things to defy me and I constantly had to fight her over trying to make changes to me,” she said. “At one point, she decided I was the reason for the marriage break-up.”

Over time, mother and daughter grew close and Bro swelled with pride when Heyer fell in love with her career as a paralegal and got certified as a notary public.

Commander still refers to Heyer in the present tense and misses her co-worker’s friendly disposition and caring nature.

“She is amazing to work with,” Commander said. “She’s knowledgeable, personable, and treats every case uniquely as far as what a client may need. And she’s fun. She brings life to the place.”

Some of the attorneys and staff at the Miller Law Group

Attorneys and staff who worked at the Miller Law Firm with Heather Heyer. Courtney Commander (front, center) was with Heyer at the rally the day she was killed. Victoria Jackson (right of Commander), baby sat the kids and watched the events unfold on TV. Alfred Wilson (far right), was Heyer’s boss at the firm.

Alfred Wilson, who manages the firm’s bankruptcy practice, didn’t notice Heyer’s challenges when he hired her. Instead, he saw her personality and dedication to customer service.

“Customer service was an important piece of her job,” he said. “A lot of our referrals come from our clients. One client sent me an email saying Heather ran the front of our office like a queen.”

He describes her as punctual and loyal, and admired how she stood for righteousness and equality.

“For two entire years, she never missed a day of work. I had to force her to take a vacation,” he said. “Heather took ownership of her job. She took every CLE class I recommended. She and Victoria (Jackson) were ready to go to school to get their paralegal certificates, and they wanted to do it together.”

A paralegal is the first line of contact with clients; the first communication, the first and last to touch a life. Sometimes paralegals can get the information attorneys can’t get because clients often feel more comfortable talking with paralegals.

“Heather was diligent about helping others. Some might say she was just doing her job,” Wilson said. “The lessons that have come out of this are that you never know whose life you are impacting or who is watching.”

In the aftermath of Heyer’s death, the law firm started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to help pay her funeral and medical expenses and to help with other bills. In 48 hours, the campaign had raised $200,000 and was still growing, but Bro asked that it be shut down because it had raised more money than she needed. The extra funds have been used to start the Heather Heyer Foundation, which currently has $120,000. The foundation’s mission is to provide scholarships to high school students, paralegals seeking their certificates, and to support social justice initiatives.

Bro cautions people not to make Heyer into a saint.

“Heather had feet of clay,” she said. “She smoked. She drank. She loved unwisely at times, as I have loved unwisely at times. We both have feet of clay, and I have to remind people that the point here is you can be a normal person and still make an impact.”

She says Heyer had the effect of taking a match to kindling to light the fires that were already in place. Her everywoman persona made her relatable to others.

“People call her a hero. Well, she was a hero for going to the protest,” she said. “But the heroes in my mind are the people who went and witnessed that car plowing into the crowd. Many of them were injured, and yet they have not backed down. To me, that is a hero too.”

terisaylor@hotmail.com

Memorial to Heather Heyer near the spot where she was killed 4

Two months after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, a memorial still stands to Heather Heyer, who was killed when the rally turned violent.

 

Newspaper publisher goes to the mat to fight coal ash dump

Dink NeSmith owner of the Press-Sentinel in Jesup, Ga. goes the extra mile to illustrate the delicate ecosystem of the Wayne County area. This is the Altamaha River, whose waters flow to the Atlantic Ocean. NeSmith and the Press-Sentinel are fighting to keep coal ash out of their community. If allowed to be dumped in the local landfill, the toxic ash would make its way into the river and poison the waterways of southeastern Georgia. Photo by Fred Bennett

Dink NeSmith owner of the Press-Sentinel in Jesup, Ga. goes the extra mile to illustrate the delicate ecosystem of the Wayne County area. This is the Altamaha River, whose waters flow to the Atlantic Ocean. NeSmith and the Press-Sentinel are fighting to keep coal ash out of their community. If allowed to be dumped in the local landfill, the toxic ash would make its way into the river and poison the waterways of southeastern Georgia. Photo by Fred Bennett

By Teri Saylor

JESUP, GA—If it is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell, the Press-Sentinel of Jesup, GA, is rattling Satan’s rafters over a proposed coal-ash dump at the county landfill.

Trouble was brewing a long time before anyone even noticed.

More than 20 years ago, in cash strapped Wayne County, the Board of Commissioners approved a regional landfill facility to take in household waste.

In 1994, the landfill opened in Broadhurst, a tiny community located close to the county seat of Jesup.

Two years later, it was purchased by Republic Services, a Fortune 500 company that owns 200 landfills across the country. Over time, Republic Services expanded its territory in Wayne County and today owns 2,200 acres,more than double the acreage purchased in 1996.

“Back then, smaller communities banded together to create regional landfills,” said Press-Sentinel Publisher Eric Denty. “The one in Wayne County was supposed to serve 19 counties. But at some point, Republic changed that arrangement so the landfill could accept trash from every state in the country.”

Last January, a Republic Services subsidiary filed an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop 25 acres of land near the landfill for a rail yard and a nearly 7-mile rail spur off the main line to serve CSX Railroad. This rail facility would be able to accommodate as many as 100cars. Those cars would be hauling in coal ash—a lot of it.

The permit flew well under the radar.

It was a sleeping giant that was about to get a rude awakening.

Derby Waters, a veteran newsman who had worked at the Press-Sentinel in his younger days, left the paper to pursue other interests, retired and returned to the paper as a part-time reporter.

One morning in early January, he had a visitor. Neill Herring, a prolific environmental lobbyist, dropped by the newspaper and told Waters he had seen an online notice announcing the Corps of Engineers’ permit application.

And that’s how the story came to light.

The hell-raising followed.

“I called the Corps of Engineers and asked them why they didn’t file a public notice in our newspaper, which is the legal organ,” Waters said in a conference call, which included Denty and Editor Drew Davis.

“And I was told they were no longer required to publish public notice advertising, because of the internet, but I could sign up to be put on a distribution list,” Waters said.

When Waters finally saw the permit application, he learned that when all the approvals come through and the rail yard is in place, those 100 CSX rail cars would be hauling in 10,000 tons of coal ash every day and dumping it into the landfill.

That adds up to mile-long trains and enough coal ash to bury a small town.

Residents protest Republic Services, a Fortune 500 waste service corpration, which is trying to locate a coal ash dump site at its landfill near Jesup, a small town in Southeast Georgia. Photo courtesy The Press Sentinel

Residents protest Republic Services, a Fortune 500 waste service corpration, which is trying to locate a coal ash dump site at its landfill near Jesup, a small town in Southeast Georgia. Photo courtesy The Press Sentinel

Jesup is home to 12,000 residents in southeast Georgia, located about 40 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean.

It is the seat of Wayne County.

The Amtrak’s Silver Meteor stops there as it heads up and down the East Coast.

Its landmass is a rural, swampy coastal plain and piney forestland. The Altamaha River flows along the northern border of Wayne County on its way to the sea, fed by streams and tributaries along the way. It is an ecologically sensitive area.

Broadhurst is located about 10 miles south of Jesup. Sparsely populated, you won’t find much there. But if you Google the town’s name, listings about the Wayne County Landfill come up near the top of the page.

In a low-lying coastal plain, the water table is close to the land surface, andcoal ash mixed with ground water makes a toxic brew.

The Press-Sentinel deployed its army of four—Denty, Davis, Waters and the newspaper’s owner, Dink NeSmith.

They declared war on Republic Services, using ink and newsprint as their sword and shield, and they pledged to fund the entire battle out of their own budgets if they had to.

NeSmith reckons he has spent $50,000 so far, and he’s not afraid of spending more.

“If I have to drain my retirement, I will do so,” he declared in a phone conversation. “I have eight grandchildren and this is their heritage. I will go to my grave protecting my community and the environment.”

Battle heats up

After Waters learned about the permit application, he started digging into the story, spending hours sifting through minutes of county commission and city council meetings, but finding nothing that would indicate the county was complicit with the coal ash agreements.

He believes the local government “got snookered,” he said. “Republic made it financially beneficial for the county, but the county didn’t read the fine print.”

On Jan. 13, the newspaper published its first article under the headline: “Company plans to bring coal ash,other waste here.” It included aerial shots of the landfill and the entire Broadhurst area.

 

An aerial view of the Broadhurst Landfill. Photo by Fred Bennett

An aerial view of the Broadhurst Landfill. Photo by Fred Bennett

What followed has been a no-holdsbarred war. The newspaper haspublished dozens of articles, written mostly by Waters.

Denty hired an editorial cartoonist.

NeSmith started writing fiery editorials and columns, and he invited editors and publishers of other papers to editorialize against coal ash, too.

One area of great frustration for the newspapermen has been the shroud of darkness over this issue.

Denty believes the newspaper and the public should not have to work so hard to get information about issues of any magnitude, let alone a coal-ash dump that has the potential of polluting an ecosystem all the way to the coast and poisoning every living thing along the way.

The newspaper’s editorial pages have been full of blistering commentary, but from the day the story broke, Waters was intent on providing objective, balanced coverage in the news sections.

“I toured the landfill and told its story,” he said. “I reached out to Republic officials from the get-go.”

But Waters’ requests for interviews were met with a stony silence.

“So we ran stories about the landfill and Republic’s activities with ‘no comment’ from them,” Denty said. “They did see the error of their ways, and now we have contacts in the company who will deal with us.”

Waters believes Republic Services greatly underestimated the Press- Sentinel’s ability to dig up facts, which he believes were deliberately buried, and to present them to the readers in a compelling way.

“They thought we were just a little podunk community newspaper and they could just roll over us,” he said. “They have been overwhelmed by our coverage and have realized this is not a pushover community.”

The Press Sentinel hired cartoonist Jim Powell to boost editorials against dumping coal ash at the Landfill.

The Press Sentinel hired cartoonist Jim Powell to boost editorials against dumping coal ash at the Landfill.

 

The 6,000-circulation Press-Sentinel is published on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Its entire editorial staff is Denty, Davis, Waters, another part-time reporter and a handful of stringers.

In addition to coal ash, that team also covers the other, regular news of its community.

Shining a light

You might look at this as a modern David and Goliath story—a tiny, local newspaper taking on a $9 billion Fortune 500 company, CSX Railroad and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a battle of Biblical proportions.

Along the way, the newspaper uncovered a chilling fact.

Coal ash is not new to Wayne County.

The Jacksonville (FL) Energy Authority had been trucking it in for eight years. Along with Dan Chapman, a reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Press-Sentinel discovered there had already been a leak at the landfill in 2011, which had never been disclosed to the public.

Denty, who is immediate past president of the Georgia Press Association and knows his way around the state legislature, took the issue out of his newsroom and marched it straight into the state house during the assembly’s 2016 session. There he powered the passage of HB 1083, a bill that would require public notice of landfill leaks like the one that occurred in 2011.

Last March, the Corps of Engineers called a public meeting to hear the community’s concerns and answer questions.

Davis put together a 20-page, full-color section on the issue. Like a greatest hits album, the section was filled with many of the articles, columns, editorials, photos, cartoons and other content that the Press-Sentinel had carried.

“We had covered all of the issues as they arose, but we thought if we put it into a special section, it would offer a better explanation about why this is important,” Denty said. “And we thought it would provide a logical timeline that the community could easily follow.”

The section did not contain a single ad. The cost for the entire 12,000-press run was borne entirely by the Press- Sentinel. Copies were inserted into the Press-Sentinel’s regular newspaper and made available as a stand-alone piece.

“Eric and I made a decision that we didn’t want to appear to profit from this crisis,” NeSmith said. “If we want to ask other people to engage, we have to lead the way. We owe it to our community. Period. We put our hearts into this, and our wallets followed.”

NeSmith is president and co-owner ofCommunity Newspapers Inc., headquartered in Athens, GA. The group’s holdings include 25 community newspapers in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

He is proud of every single newspaper in his CNI group, but the Press-Sentinel has a special place in his heart. Founded in 1865, the newspaper is the oldest business in Jesup. He purchased it in the early 1970s, and it is the first newspaper he ever owned.

He is not going anywhere.

“I have been publishing here for 45 years, and I’ll keep going until I am 90,” he declared.

He spends at least part of the day, seven-days-a-week, writing editorials, columns and letters, making calls and preaching against Republic Services to anyone within earshot.

He vows to never stop until he has accomplished three goals: to extract a guarantee from Republic Services that no coal ash will ever be brought into Wayne County; to convince the Corps of Engineers to deny the permit for the rail spur; and to convince the county to renegotiate its contract with Republic, imposing strict rules on the volume and type of solid waste the landfill is allowed to accept.

“If I were on my death bed, I’d get up and keep fighting,” NeSmith said. “I will do whatever it takes, and then some. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”

Note: This article was first appeared in the National Newspaper Association’s monthly publication “Publishers Auxiliary.”

terisaylor@hotmail.com

 

Death of a Trail Runner



dudley running

By Anthony Corriveau

(Editor’s note: This beautifully written blog post first ran on March 4, 2016 in Anthony Corriveau’s blog Running Down, Anthony and his wife, Shannon Johnstone graciously allowed me to publish it here)

We had to put down our dog Dudley Dooright today. He was 11 years old. Dudley was my running partner.

You may have assumed that my running partner was my wife Shannon, the exceptional runner that she is. But Shannon and I are never in sync. I love mornings but she hates them. She has her best runs at night around the time I cannot keep my eyes open, let alone run. She might lag behind on a technical trail, but when she does 20 mile runs in Umstead I’m struggling to finish two miles on aching knees.

In fact, I have never been a social runner. The reason I started running originally was to get away from people. I discovered that running on trails alone was my happy place, the only thing that helped with frequent bouts of depression. But it wasn’t simply the endorphins produced from running.

Running on roads is just rote exercise. A procedure defined by simple equations of stride length and cadence, of VO2 Max and glycogen consumption. But running a single track trail as fast as you can is something else entirely: Intense focus on every root and rock, trying to maintain momentum around the next switchback, through the stretch of ankle deep mud, down and up a gully and then lifting your shoulder just in time to barely miss that tree. There are no thoughts of mortgages or dentist appointments or what the hell you are going to do with your life. Only thoughts of how many steps to take before you jump that log.

I got Dudley as a puppy in 2005. He was obviously a Golden Retriever, though I often refused to acknowledge this. This is because he was a reject from a breeder who dumped him in a parking lot, leaving him to die with a congenital defect. Dog breeders and the demand for “purebred” dogs is one of the main reasons the shelters are overflowing with animals who will never find a home. But I digress.

Shannon and I eventually had a pack of 4 dogs, and we would often take three of them running on the single track trail around the lake near our house (The 4th dog Lula was more into sunbathing than running). We are those obnoxious people who let their dogs run off leash, but we almost never ran into anyone else out there, and the unlikely event someone might be bothered seemed a small price to pay for the sheer happiness of three dogs.

Jorge and Jefferey seemed to mostly enjoy finding disgusting things out in the woods to eat, or roll in, or both. We would often have to call those two away from whatever distraction they found to keep them moving. But Dudley was different. He loved the trail like I did, and just wanted to run. It was a roller coaster ride that he didn’t want to stop. He would run up and down hills or around in circles through the trees while the rest of the pack dilly-dallied. He didn’t really care where we were going, as long is he was moving.

Around 2008, I started to invest more of my time and attention to running. When I figured out how to run more than 15 miles a week without hurting my knees, I ran as much as I could, with my favorite route an 8 miler around the lake. Since the other dogs lacked the stamina and interest, I would only take Dooright with me.
We had a special connection that I cannot explain. Almost always he was there ten feet in front of me, setting the pace. When I couldn’t keep up, sometimes he would stop and look back at me, “What are you waiting for? Come on!”. Or he would run a wide arc through the trees to allow me to catch up.

Dudley knew the trails better than I did, and had a perfect map in his head. Often he would jump off the trail into a swamp or make a hard left and disappear over a hill. Stupidly, I would stop and call for him. But it never failed that he would reappear on the trail in front of me and give the that look, “What? Let’s go!”. On hot days, he would get tired on the way back, and struggle to keep up. So he would cheat and take short cuts to stay in front of me.
05_16_15_tough_race
His desire to always be in front made him great at racing 5Ks. His laser like focus gave him an edge over other dogs. Of the 12 dog friendly races we entered, Dooright came out top dog in 9 of them.

Around 2012 both Dudley and I slowed down. My knees started to bother me again, and his hips got weak. When we woke in the morning, we would both hesitate before going down the stairs, knowing it was going to hurt. We still tried to hit the trail together, but he couldn’t go as far, and would be stiff and sore afterward. But it was always worth it.

A few weeks ago, Dudley momentarily collapsed while chasing a ball. After many trips to the vet, he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The tumors in his organs would grow and burst, causing him to bleed internally. They robbed him of all his energy and he could no longer run. Even walking was a struggle.

There was no treatment available that provided any hope. So we just tried to give him as many good days as we could. On Thursday we drove Dudley and the other 2 dogs out to a local trail for a walk. Dudley jumped out of the van and trotted to the trailhead, as fast as we had seen him move in several days.

It was mid-afternoon and we had the woods to ourselves. He managed to walk a half mile, trudging slowly forward with all of his effort. But that was all he had in him, and he just stopped on the trail. We let him rest a while, and then leisurely headed back. He would walk for a hundred feet and then stop and rest. The cancer was tearing his insides up. His stomach was bloated, and is spine and hips protruded from withering muscle.

Seeing him struggle like this was terrible, and Shannon and I decided that it was finally time to let him go. As we neared the car, Dudley stopped and dug a shallow hole and laid down in the middle of the trail, in the shade of large tree.

His nose twitched left and right, detecting distant scents in the breeze blowing in his face. Occasionally his ears perked up when he saw a bird or squirrel or runner going by in the distance.

“Come on Dudley, let’s go home.” I tried encouraging him to follow us to the car. But maybe for the first time ever, he didn’t seem inclined to follow me. He just looked back peacefully. I imagined him saying “I think I’ll stay here on the trail. This time, go on without me.”

I sat on a log next to him. A barrier broke inside me and the sadness of losing him poured into and mixed with the happiness of all those long afternoons of running the trails with him. I started crying, deeply. Haven’t really stopped yet as of this writing. It took us a couple days to summon the courage, but we let him go this morning.

I suppose a eulogy for a dog could be considered banal, or you might call this one maudlin. I would accept that.

After all, it’s just a dog. It’s just trails in the woods. It’s just a guy and his dog running as fast as they can to nowhere in particular. It’s just exactly that and nothing else. Pure joy.

12_12_15_run_in_tx2

Tom Green’s Challenge

 

IMG_2043_edited_edited (800x537)

Tom Green proves why he is considered a legend in ultrarunning as he crosses the 2016 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run finish line after completing 50-miles, marking the longest distance he has run or walked since he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a tree trimming accident on April 20, 2015.

 

BY TERI SAYLOR

Tom Green did not cross the finish line at the Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run to great fanfare and loud cheers, but while he deserved it, he neither needed nor wanted it.

The 50-mile ultramarathon distance he covered in 14 hours and 45 minutes on April 2 was a triumph in itself, and it was the longest distance Green’s two feet have taken him since a tree-trimming accident nearly ended his running career and his life less than a year ago.

For average fans of distance running, Green’s return to the ultramarathon circuit may seem no less than miraculous, but his friends and fellow runners would rather attribute his comeback to the ingredients that make up Tom Green– a strong spirit, a stubborn streak a mile long and willpower made out of cast iron.

The last thing Green remembers about April 20, 2015 is watching the Boston Marathon with his friend Alan Doss.

He vaguely recalls pulling some branches down from a tree in his yard, but the rest of that day and the three weeks that followed are dark.

“I woke up and my sister was there,” he said on the phone recently. “She told me I hit my head and I was in the hospital. I was incredulous.”

Mention the name “Tom Green” to almost any ultramarathon runner or fan and you’ll get a story about how he inspires beginners and encourages fellow veterans when they struggle.

Tammy Massie is one of them.

A prolific endurance runner who tackles marathons and ultramarathons almost every weekend, Massie had just completed her ninth Umstead 100-mile race and was gearing up to volunteer at the Bull Run Run 50-miler on April 9, another race Green was planning to tackle.

“I met Tom about 10 years ago when I first started volunteering at the Bull Run Run,” she said. “He is such a gentleman and an inspiring runner. From all of the energy he has given us over the years – we are giving it back to him.”

From cross country races to ultrarunning

Green, 65, who started running cross country as a kid, is what sportswriters and pundits might describe as a durable runner. Speed has never been his strong suit, but he always has possessed enough endurance to take him to the finish line of almost any race. His 100-mile PR is 17 hours and 28 minutes at the Vermont-100 in 1992. At age 47, he ran 132 miles in the 24-Hour National Championship.

“I never knew an ultramarathon existed until I read about a 100-mile trail run in a magazine,” he said. “And when I read it, I was suckered in. There were photos of middle-aged men, some on the heavy side, and smiling like they were having the time of their lives.”

So at 32 years old, he entered his first ultra – the Old Dominion 100 – and completed 60 miles.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said.

Green considered that first attempt a failure, but he refused to quit. The second time he tried, he completed all 100 miles. The following year he fell short again. Going one for three wasn’t good enough for him, so he set his mind on completing every single ultramarathon that existed.

It was 1986, and there were just four ultras: Vermont, Wasatch, Leadville and Western States. To run all four in the same year became like the holy grail of running and it was anointed the Grand Slam of Ultramarathons.

Other runners tried and failed, but Green persevered, finishing all four races in a cumulative time of 96 hours, 26 minutes, and 28 seconds, claiming his spot in the history books as ultrarunning’s first Grand Slam Champion, and sealing his status as a bona fide running legend.

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Tom Green uses hiking poles to navigate a flight of stairs leading up to the Umstead 100 main aid station and the starting point for each loop.

 

If you ask Green, this ultimate achievement is not worth fussing over.

“It seemed like it would make a good adventure and a challenge at the time,” he said. “Back then, people looked at me like I was Superman, but that was the farthest thing from the truth. I was always just an average runner.”

As Massie sees it, Green is a rock star among mere mortals.

“He is super duper famous,” she said. “To me, seeing him at races is like seeing Jon Bon Jovi at a Target.”

The accident

Green may not remember much about the accident that nearly killed him, but Alan Doss remembers every frightening moment.

The two men, who have been friends for more than 30 years, are carpenters and although they live 400 miles apart-Green in Maryland and Doss in West Virginia – they often collaborate on projects.

Doss and Green had taken a break after building a split rail fence around Green’s property to watch the Boston Marathon. When the race ended, they went back outside to cut down a couple of limbs hanging over Green’s garage.

“The limbs jutted out from the tree trunk, parallel to the ground,” Doss explained. “We had decided on a plan for safety, and executed it perfectly.”

The men cut the smallest limb first. When they tackled the second limb, it fell right where it was supposed to but as if it had a mind of its own, it hit the ground, kicked back up and struck Green behind his left ear, nicking his carotid artery, and causing a fracture of the temporal bone.

“Tom fell like a sack of potatoes almost on top of me,” Doss said. “Blood was squirting out of his head wound, and I put my hand over it to make it stop squirting.”

Green was airlifted to the University of Maryland Trauma center in Baltimore where he lay in a coma for two weeks.

Green’s wife, Kay, who is a radiology technician, credits Doss for his quick actions that may have saved her husband’s life.

“I felt bad for Alan, who witnessed the accident, but he did the right thing by holding Tom’s head still, staunching the blood flow and yelling for someone to call 911,” she said while standing around the Umstead course waiting for Tom to pass by on his journey.

In the hospital’s intensive care unit, Green’s condition was touch and go for days, and no one knew if he would ever be the same. He suffered a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, and blood clots which caused a stroke, all symptoms of traumatic brain injury that would keep him in a comatose state. When he finally opened his eyes, he still wasn’t really there, Kay Green said.

Then he started responding to stimulation and following commands.

“That’s when we knew he would come back,” Kay said. “When he was able to lift his right leg, we cheered because we knew he would someday be able to run again.”

IMG_1769_edited_edited (800x521)

At 6 a.m. on April 2, Tom Green started the Umstead 100 Endurance Run using a baby jogger to help him balance. He went on to finish the run’s 50-mile option, his distance PR since a freak tree trimming accident left him critically injured a year ago

 

But Green had to learn how to walk before he could run, and when he returned home after a month of physical therapy, he set out to do just that.

Using a walker at first, he measured his distance, not in miles, but in mailboxes.

“Tom walked to the first mailbox on our street,” Kay said. “Then he was able to make it to the second mailbox.”

Within four weeks, and using his walker, Green could shuffle a mile, which took 40 minutes.

“At this point, we just didn’t know how much Tom could recover,” Doss said.

But while Green kept improving, balance continued to be a problem. He knew if he ever wanted to have a chance to run ultras again, he’d have to find something to hang onto for balance, yet navigate easily.

Jogging strollers are the rage for mom-and-dad runners with new babies. Green reckoned he could run with one too.

The comeback

Green set his sights on the Crooked Road 24-hour run in Rocky Mountain, Virginia, a November run that would come only seven months after he almost died.

His goal was to finish 50K, but after going 30 miles in 10 hours, he was exhausted.

“So I took a nap,” he said. “And when I woke up, I felt guilty for stopping, so I got up and walked nine more miles.”

Then on March 19, Green decided to try a free run without using the jogger at the Hat Run in Maryland. Along the way, he lost his balance, fell and hit his head again.

With the Umstead 100 just two weeks away, on April 2, Green was determined to follow through despite his set-back. He was determined to get 50 miles.

Set in the rolling hills of the 100-year old William B. Umstead State Park, the endurance run takes place on a picturesque, looping bridle trail, rocky and unforgiving on the feet, but easy for anything with wheels, like mountain bikes and baby joggers.

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Tom Green navigates the rocky bridle trails at the Umstead 100 Endurance Run

 

For Green, the Umstead 100-mile endurance race was as much a lesson in strategy and willpower as it was in strength and endurance. To finish in the 30-hour time limit runners must maintain at least an 18 minute pace, and even though Green was planning on going 50 miles, it was important to him to maintain that minimum pace. Strong and steady, he never wavered and never even rested at the aid stations.

After starting just before daybreak at 6 a.m., Green finished an hour after the sun went down at 8:45 p.m.

A few friends and volunteers who were hanging around the finish line congratulated him with handshakes and hugs, but he did not linger. After a few minutes, with his wife at his side, he grasped two hiking poles and quietly hiked away into the darkness.

While 2016 marks exactly 30 years since Tom Green made running history by becoming the first Ultra Running Grand Slam Champion, coming back strong after his traumatic brain injury may be his biggest feat of endurance yet.

When most people think of a champion runner, they envision a chiseled athlete, out in front, breaking a finish line ribbon with arms raised in glory.

But champions are made in many forms.

At any given trail run, you may see a figure, not running, but striding quickly through the forest pushing an empty baby jogger or heaving a pair of hiking poles. He’s focused, determined, and steady as he pushes toward a finish line in the distance.

That is what a champion looks like.

Tom and kay green resized

Tom and Kay Green head out on the Umstead 100 Endurance Run course.

Editor’s note: This story was written for the May 2016 issue of Running Journal. Contact Teri Saylor at terisaylor@hotmail.com or on Twitter @terisaylor

 

Burns Times-Herald strives to maintain local coverage

Militant occupation causes disruption in community

Protestors decend on Burns Oregon by Samantha White

Militants descend on Harney County in Eastern Oregon to protest the Bureau of Land Management’s control of federal lands and the jailing of two locals farmers for burning brush on federal property. – Photo by Samantha White, courtesy of the Burns Times-Herald

BY TERI SAYLOR

Note: This article first appeared in Publishers’ Auxiliary, of the National Newspaper Association. The occupation is over, and the community is slowly reclaiming the small town lifestyle its residents enjoy.

BURNS, ORE. —Social media devotees have had a field day with the small army of militiamen who are occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Ore., to protest the imprisonment of a pair of local ranchers for committing arson on federal lands.

Online jokesters using hashtags with phrases like “Ya’ll Qaeda,” “#Vanilla Isis,” “Yee Hawdists,” and “Yokel Harem” are living large onTwitter and comparing the militia to a sort of misfit terrorism outfit with a Mayberryesque incompetence brough on by the likes of the characters Barney Fife and Goober. It doesn’t help that the gun-wielding militia have taken over a bird sanctuary.

Randy Parks, editor of the Burns Times-Herald, has been weary of the sensational headlines, the mockery, and the militia itself almost from day one. He sees no novelty in it and wants the occupiers to go back to where they came from so he can return to the business of reporting the real news of Harney County and get some sleep.

“This is a huge disruption,” Parks said in a recent phone interview.

“Here, there is an attitude to wait them out, and that’s what the local law enforcement has elected to do. The sooner they leave, the better off we’ll all be.”

The trouble started Jan. 2, when about 300 anti-government protesters arrived in Harney County, a wild, 10,000 square-mile landscape in eastern Oregon.

Then, a small splinter group took over a building on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where they have been holed up an entire month, with no indication they will be leaving anytime soon.

The protestors came from Arizona, Utah, Montana and other places outside of Harney County.

A festering wound

Trouble had been festering since 2001, when a fire Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, set on their property burned federal land beyond their property line. The U.S. Department of Justice alleged the fire was to cover up an illegal deer hunt, but the Hammonds maintained they were trying to eradicate an invasive species of underbrush.

Five years later, in August 2006, a lightning strike set the landscape ablaze, triggering a burn ban. Steven Hammond started a back burn to prevent the fi re from destroying the winter crop of cattle feed the family had planted on their property. It also burned about an acre of public land.

With that, Dwight and Steven Hammond were charged with several arson-related crimes under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which carried a mandatory sentence of 5 years in prison.

The federal judge in the case thought that sentence didn’t fit the Hammonds’ crime, so he reduced the sentences to about three months for Dwight, and a year for Steven. Both served their time in federal prison.

Then in 2010, the Department of Justice appealed the sentences, won in the 9th Circuit, and the men were ordered to return to prison to finish their mandatory sentences.

They turned themselves in without incident Jan. 4, two days after the protests started.

Since then, local schools have been closed and local residents are scared.

Even Dwight and Steven Hammond, now in prison, have distanced themselves from the protest, according to Parks.

“The family has asked for privacy,” Parks said. “And I respect that. I think they are good people who made a mistake. I also think the judge made a mistake in sentencing them that first time.”

 Small town life

Parks is a former owner of the Burns Times Herald. The 2,941-circulation weekly was founded in 1887.

He was born and raised in Iowa, and started college at the University of Idaho on the path to becoming a teacher. Halfway through college, he changed his career path and movedto Sun Valley to live the life of a ski bum and work at the resort there. That lifestyle lasted 10 years.

He went on to study broadcasting and moved to Burns in 1989, where he worked at a local radio station for 16 years until the station was sold. Parks moved over to print journalism, went in with four partners, and bought the Times Herald.

Recently, the group sold the paper to a couple of local businessmen. Parks stayed on as editor.

In a place where there is more sagebrush than people, the newspaper’s motto is “Covers Harney County like Sagebrush.”

And that suits Parks just fine.

“I am not a big city person. I like small towns,” he said.

If Parks loves small town life, then Burns must be paradise to him.

Just 3,000 people call the Harney County seat home, according to Parks. The town’s close neighbor, Hines, has 1,500 residents.

By Harney County standards, Burns and Hines would be the “metro” area.

The county’s vast landmass has a population of just 7,000, making the area one of the most sparsely populated in the United States.

Seventy percent of the county’s land belongs to the federal government and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

At the turn of the 20th Century, President Teddy Roosevelt established the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which the U.S. Audubon Society considers one of the premiere sites for birds and birding in the nation.

“The refuge is an interesting place and an important part of our community,” said Parks.

In 2012, a coalition made up of environmentalists, local residents, ranchers, federal government employees and other interested parties agreed on a conservation plan for the refuge. It took three years to negotiate, but the result was a plan everyone could live with,according to Parks.

“They didn’t always agree, but we have always done things by working together,” Parks said. “It is the Harney County way.”

Parks describes his community as quiet and dignified.

“People go about their business and keep to themselves,” he said. “We have residents here who are state and federal employees. We are friends and neighbors, and we don’t point fingers at each other. The outsiders are here doing that and stirring things up.”

Media converge on Burns photo by Jeff Graham

Media from all over the country converged on Burns to cover the militant occupation at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. – Photo by Jeff Graham for Burns Times-Herald.

He’s also worried that people from other parts of the country are getting the wrong impression of his community from the national media, which is camped out on his doorstep.

“You watch on television, and they focus in on guns and rifl es, and they don’t focus on the people. They pick out the most antagonizing snippets and show them,” Parks said. “They take things out of context, sensationalize them, and there’s not much we can do about it. Our residents are thanking us for taking the middle road on our coverage.”

Parks doesn’t like covering the standoff at all. It stretches his small staff too thin.

“We had two reporters on our staff, but in December one left to go work for the local hospital, so it’s just Sam (reporter Samantha White) and me,” he said. “We’re to the point where we want it to end. We want to get on with our lives. We want to cover our schools, our public events, meetings, and the things people need to know.”

The Burns Times Herald is printed at the Bend (OR) Bulletin, about 130 miles from Burns.

“We submit the newspaper electronically on Tuesday nights. They print the paper, and we have a guy who drives out to Bend and returns with the newspaper around 11 or 12 at night. Then three of us go out at 5 a.m. on Wednesday and make our deliveries,” he said.

Despite interruptions from the outside world—national media and self-described militiamen from other parts of the country, Parks is determined to continue covering the day-to-day aspects of his community.

“We’ll continue to not ignore the other news of our community. Our role is to keep people informed and stick to the facts,” he said. “And when the militia and media do finally leave, we’ll still be here to pick up the pieces.”

terisaylor@hotmail.com

Cary man tests his limits running across North Carolina

New Years Day 2015 005

Story and Photos by Teri Saylor

Fueled by biscuits, waffles, hotdogs, ice cream, and a single cold Budweiser, Dave Cockman plowed through North Carolina on a pair of legs that carried him over 20 counties and more than 660 miles over two weeks on his quest to run from the Tennessee border at Murphy to the Atlantic Ocean at Nags Head.

Cockman, 57, who lives in Cary, started his journey in Murphy at 7:00 a.m. on April 4 and on April 18, he took his victory lap on Jennette’s Pier at 7:28 p.m.

When he finished his journey at the end of the pier overlooking the sea, Cockman checked the GPS strapped on his wrist and announced he had covered 664.44 miles in 14 days, 11 hours, and 28 minutes.

He hopes that was good enough to set a speed record for running from Murphy to Manteo.

This was the greatest 14-day adventure I have ever had,” he announced to a dozen friends, family and well-wishers who were in Nags Head to run the Flying Pirate Half Marathon and had gathered at the pier to greet him at the finish.

I cannot be more excited to be standing here on Jennette’s Pier,” he said. “I have run as far east as I can go, after starting out in the far western part of the state.”

Thanks to social media, newspapers and broadcast coverage, Cockman became a familiar figure along U.S. Highway 64, his chosen route across the state. He ran on busy highways and scenic rural roads, following the original highway, which often took him off the beaten path.

He ran roughly 50 miles a day and managed a steady pace, averaging four miles an hour. For the final portion of the run on Saturday, he covered 45.75 miles, running from Columbia to Nags Head. It took 11 hours.

Dave Cockman takes a water break at a convenience store along U.S. Highway 64 near Pittsboro (800x533)

In Pittsboro on April 13, Cockman took a refreshment break at a convenience store and explained he had slept no more than two hours the night before. He was anxious about his schedule. Pain in his left leg had slowed him down and forced him to make an unexpected stop in Lexington. When he found a place to lay his head for the night, he was eight miles off course.

Trying to make up for lost time, he ran 62-miles the next day, from Lexington to Siler City, arriving at a hotel at 3:30 a.m.

He rubbed his left calf, and described the pain.

It’s a shooting pain,” he said. “It starts in the back of my knee and radiates to my calf. But it feels okay as long as I keep running.”

Cockman, at 5’10”, is a durable athlete who has completed more than 40 ultra marathons. Last year, he wrapped up the Grand Slam of Ultra Running, consisting of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run, the the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run.

In 2013, Cockman ran the Tuna Relay which consists of teams of runners taking turns running to cover 200 miles from Garner to Atlantic Beach.

Cockman ran all 200 miles by himself.

Two years ago, Dave cooked up his most audacious goal yet – to run across North Carolina in a single, continuous ultra marathon.

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For Cockman, this journey was a pilgrimage to find his physical, mental and emotional limits – if he has any.

He is also raising money to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a 15-year old nonprofit organization benefiting wounded war veterans and their families. In 2010 the organization completed a 72,000 square foot medical facility on the Navy campus at Bethesda, Md. to treat veterans with traumatic brain injuries. Two years ago, the Fund launched a campaign to build nine satellite centers at military bases across the country. Two of these facilities, called Intrepid Spirit Centers, are in North Carolina – one at Camp LeJeune and the other at Ft. Bragg.

Cockman, who has a fundraising page on his website www.murphytomanteo.org, had raised over $5,000 by the end of the run and expects the total to crest $7,000.

The money Cockman is raising will help pay for the Intrepid Spirit Center at Ft. Carson, Co., according to David Winters, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

I am amazed at what he is doing,” Winters said in a phone conversation. “A few people have raised money for us through physical activities, but to do what Dave is doing, roughly two marathons a day for two weeks, boggles the mind.”

Cockman, who ran his race mostly alone, carried what he needed in a small backpack – a few clothing items and supplies such as sunscreen and toiletries as well as cash and credit cards for his daily expenses. Two small, fluttering American flags attached to his backpack symbolized his devotion to wounded war veterans.

Along the way, strangers stopped to greet him and donate to his fund. He ended his run with more than $1,000 in cash.

The high point of my trip so far is the people I have met,” he said in Pittsboro. “They are treating me like a rock star. People are even asking me for my autograph.”

In Murphy, the local fire department escorted him for 20 miles, and in Hayesville and Lake Lure, he had a police escort.

The low points came during the darkness of night when he ran along the highway alone, heading for his next rest stop.

Some nights he ran into the wee hours.

I don’t like to run at night. It’s very dangerous,” he said.

Even though he wore a reflective vest, flashers and a head lamp, he couldn’t be too careful. He always ran facing traffic and often saw vehicles coming right at him.

I could tell people were looking at me and they sometimes drifted toward me,” he said. “I got very scared. There are lots of big semis out there, and late at night when I was very tired, I had to fight to keep my wits about me.”

Dave Cockman approaches Nags Head (800x501)

Ron Wahula, City of Oaks Marathon race director and director of the Raleigh Galloway marathon program, complimented Cockman from his booth at the recent Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Expo.

What Dave is doing is amazingly difficult. To be out on the roads unsupported and alone,” Wahula said. “This is the farthest he’s ever run before, and he’s pushing himself into unknown territory.”

Two years ago, Wahula completed the Umstead 100-Endurance Run, a 100-mile ultra marathon and imagines how Cockman feels running long miles day in and day out.

He trained, he’s prepared, and he’s organized,” Wahula said. “It will also take a little luck to push him through, but Dave’s a special guy. He has tremendous durability and a tremendous heart.”

Dave Cockman runs through Manteo (800x533)

 

Cockman is a senior systems engineer with Itron, a company that makes utility meters. He uses vacation time for his running endeavors. His company also offers 32 hours a year for employees to use toward charitable causes, and he’s tapping into those hours for his cross-state run too.

According to his boss, Randy Owen, Cockman’s intensity in the workplace matches his zeal for running. His entire team has been tracking his progress across the state, and fellow employees have donated approximately $600 towards Cockman’s fundraising effort, which the company will match, according to Owen.

It has been a lot of fun for our department to live vicariously through Dave’s exploits,” Owen said.“We have been impressed and motivated by his dedication to reach his goals while at the same time being an exemplary employee in the office.”

Without having a scale, Cockman doesn’t know exactly how much weight has melted off his normal 167-pound frame, but he estimates he’s at least 25 pounds lighter than he was when he started his run.

Dave Cockman tries to consume as many calories as possible to maintain his weight and energy (533x800)

His favorite road food is biscuits, gravy and waffles. Along the way, he took advantage of local barbecue joints and scarfed down entire large pizzas, but it did little good. The running burned more calories than he could consume.

Near Apex on April 13, several of Cockman’s running buddies joined him for a few miles. They dropped into the Local Bar, a tiny watering hole alongside the highway, where Cockman caught up with friends and a co-worker who stopped by hoping to see him. Another friend showed up with a cooler full of hotdogs. Cockman sat for a spell, resting his legs as he washed down a couple of hotdogs with a cold beer before getting up and continuing on his way toward Raleigh, his overnight stop.

Along the way, friends joined him, first one then two, and like the Pied Piper, he collected runners as he cruised up Chatham Street through Cary, and onto Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, where he and his team, now up to nine, stopped at Snoopy’s. He ate three more hot dogs, drank a cup of sweet tea and signed his autograph for the servers. It was almost midnight when the group headed to the Holiday Inn, where Cockman would rest for the night.

The next morning, two dozen runners mingled with the early morning business crowd at Big Ed’s in City Market to have breakfast with Cockman before sending him off to complete his final 200 miles.

Dave Cockman heads east on U.S. Highway 64 near Pittsboro 2 (800x528)

Cockman downed a large helping of biscuits and gravy, a serving of plain biscuits, four eggs, bacon, a cup of coffee and a glass of milk. Then with a team of companions to keep him company for a few blocks, he set off on New Bern Avenue toward Rocky Mount, pressing onward toward the sea.

Terisaylor@hotmail.com @terisaylor