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February 6, 2008
Channel 3 reporter's weather-coverage auto accident saga

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Back today from vacation, where I stayed far away from the snow in the Sierra, I was troubled to read an e-mail making the rounds.

It seems that last Thursday, Channel 3 reporter Sharokina Shams and a KCRA photographer were involved in an auto accident racing to the scene of snowfall for a live report. Above is a photo of the car.


Neither Shams nor Anzio Williams, KCRA's news director, were immediately available today for comment.

UPDATE at 3:30 p.m.: The photographer involved was veteran Ron Middlekauff, who suffered enough injuries that he apparently has yet to return to work.

In any event, here is the e-mail Shams sent to fellow reporters in Sacramento:

"Everyone, "This is a tough story to tell. And some of you on this email list are old friends I haven't talked to in a while, but, because most of you are in the news business, I wanted to share this. Some of you are journalism professors. You can share this with your students. The rest of you - please, tell your crews, be extra careful when they're out there in the world, gathering news. Managers, please think of safety first. And crews - your managers may not know how bad it is out there, so it's up to you to tell them. "My photographer – a very nice man we'll call Jay – and I got into a terrible car accident on Thursday, 1/31, driving to meet our satellite truck on an exceptionally snowy day, east of Pollock Pines in El Dorado County. We had to be live at 5 & 6 w/snow stories.

"Jay wanted to get a few driving shots of snow and asked if I’d be comfortable driving. I said sure and I drove, while he shot video out the window. Five minutes later, I had the car skidding out of control. I tried and tried to regain control but I couldn't. We slid across all lanes of traffic and then, screaming, we tumbled over a snowy embankment, 125 feet.

"I still don't know how we didn't die: our car flipped 5 or 6 times. As we were falling, I thought, “This is the end of this life. And I haven't said goodbye to anybody.”

"When our car finally landed, it landed on the driver’s side. My head was pushed up between the steering wheel & the windshield, against the ground, so I could see nothing. And I couldn’t move. I was completely helpless. I knew I was alive but I got even more scared because I thought Jay might be dead or dying. I thought, “If no one saw us go over, we’re both screwed because I can't see anything.” But, then, I heard him calling out my name.

"We were so blessed. A Cal Trans worker had seen car tracks that led over the embankment and followed them and found us. He said that's how they find people. They see tracks & follow them & find cars at the bottom of mountains.

"Jay was able to climb out of the broken windows. It took an hour and a half for El Dorado County firefighters to cut me out of the car and all the while, I could only hear them around me. I could see nothing. Then, the hill was steep and the snow was deep so they couldn't carry the stretchers up to the top. They tied me up on the stretcher and put it on the ground against the snow, which was falling onto my face. Then, they put a couple of firemen at the top of the hill and pulled the stretcher with a rope until they finally got me up to street level.

"I had been driving carefully. I had seen traffic coming to a stop up ahead, and began to do the same. But, as soon as I put the brakes on, the car started to slide, completely out of control. We had thought that we wouldn't need chains because the car was a 4-wheel drive and Cal Trans let us through without them. I think we were wrong.

"I have a broken finger and I'm sore and bruised. Also, there was blood coming out of my head 12 hours later once I was home. It seems to be because I was suspended upside down by my seatbelt for so long: all the blood had rushed to my brain and came out from my ear later. Jay had a cut on his forehead and a lot of soreness.

"I guess I'm telling you guys what you already know - no story is worth this. We weren't driving fast, but we did FEEL rushed that day - gathering enough for two live shots with complete insert packages and making it back to the location in time even though we hadn't started shooting 'till 1 o'clock because we were live with something else at noon in a different location. You know the drill.

"We almost died. Think about this. Jay is married, with children at home who depend on him. And he almost lost his life up in the mountains, telling a routine, run-of-the-mill snow story. We're not talking about journalists risking their lives in Iraq or Somalia. We're talking about a weather story.


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