Cowtastrophe

June 29, 2012 

Covering spot news is always full of unknowns. Gleaning incomplete information from the scanner can be confusing. You can have a great relationship with local law enforcement, but run into a new officer who doesn't know or trust you, and a fender bender you're just checking out on a slow news day could turn confrontational.

And sometimes, something surprising happens even when it should have been expected all along.

As my shift started at 9 a.m. last Wednesday, reporter Paula Horton caught the tail end of some scanner chatter. All she heard was something about cows being all over the place and for crews to brace for media arrival.

And then we didn't hear anything else about it. We had missed the location and other specifics, but figured it was somewhere near Prosser. With only that to go on, nobody went out on a potential wild goose chase. About two hours later, we heard that a Benton County Sheriff's deputy was rear ended while responding to an accident near Prosser. In hindsight, it seems like a pretty logical connection, but I headed west to see what was going on.

It wasn't until I arrived and noticed all the cows that I realized this was the scene from earlier. A trailer carrying 46 cattle headed for slaughter had tipped, killing two cows. Several more cattle would be euthanized, but the driver was unhurt.

Crews were already rounding up stray cattle and working on extracting the rest from the tipped trailer when I got there:

I went between wide and tighter looks to try and include both the tipped semi and the upright surviving cattle,

before making a poorly timed move down the slope. A couple of cowboys were herding one stray back to its new trailer and I had to hustle up the hill for safety, but not fast or high enough to include the context of the semi:

It would still end up being the most dramatic photo of the bunch and had a better feel than the other two round-up snaps I included in the gallery:

The rest of my time was spent gathering video and interviewing the unlucky general manager who had to deal with this mess. In the video, I managed to get a shot of a headstrong burger-to-be bounding through their makeshift chute. That moment would have been a strong candidate for the still photo, but I'm glad I got it in a moving image. It fit well with what Ron Reyer talked about in the interview. Also, it was one of the few mishaps I saw while covering the scene and having a blunder be the main photo in print might not have been the most accurate portrayal of cleanup.

It's hard not to wonder what I would have seen if we had caught the initial dispatch and arrived amid the early chaos. Emergency crews may have been more restrictive due to safety concerns or they could have been too busy to care about me. I may have had to spend more than three hours on the scene to get Ron on camera, or he may not have been in the mood to talk depending on how he perceived my presence there. You never know what you'll find when you respond to potential breaking news, and that uncertainty is what can make it exciting or frustrating.

And sometimes, it ends up being surreal. I probably won't ever happen across a situation like this again, but something even crazier could be just around the corner.

Speaking of surreal...

I've often lamented the difficulty in shooting from fresh perspectives year in and out at annual events. Well, imagine shooting the same subject for two different clients in less than 48 hours. That's what Stephen Voss had to tackle when photographing Sandra Fluke. Insert "fluke" pun here.

Wednesday was the supposed day that Marty McFly went back to the future in this internet hoax, but the future is clearly now, with Google's Project Glass.

Alejandro Cartagena put together a simply fantastic essay of migrant workers making their way to work in the beds of pickup trucks.

And Janet Jarman shows the value of investing time in a subject with her 15-year project about Marisol.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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