Reality hits home with Valley losses

This past month has been a true reality check. Unfortunately, not as fun as watching some of the absurd reality shows on television. Nope, none of this was staged and in some cases, nobody could have anticipated what happened.

It seems death reared its head in the past month, taking several good people and in some cases, making us ask: Why?

Death is one of those things you tend to think about only when the cold slap in the face of reality has you sitting at someone's services.

I once wrote an editorial that said you could measure your life's success based on the number of people that showed up at your funeral. Based on the three funerals I have been to in the last month, the Valley has some very successful people.

The first to go was Rochelle Stone, a woman who almost had been a second mother to me. She was a great lady that introduced me to things like eating cow tongue and brussels sprouts. (I sat at the table until my plate was clean, which took several hours.) She was a constant force for my family as we grew up, offering a place to stay or a meal if needed. Her kids are like my sisters and in fact, one is my current neighbor.

Next it was Paul Cabe, a person whom I had met at Rim Rock Cove. A great vacation spot in Eastern Washington. Paul had touched a lot of peoples' lives and the legacy of his children has touched many more. Based on the number of people at his funeral, he was a very successful man.

Third on the list was Gary Trunkey, a former sergeant of my father's in the Washington State Patrol. Many people will remember Gary as an umpire who favored softball games over baseball and who had a presence on the field that prevented anyone from questioning his calls. He always was willing to pitch in to help Little League.

As a state trooper he knew when to put on his work face, but there was always a gentle, friendly person behind the badge and Smokey the Bear hat.

Finally was Tonya Riexinger, or as many of us knew her, Tonya Funck. I had known Tonya since kindergarten and remember those huge brown eyes as a kid. She always had a smile on her face and her spiked hair moved as she bounced around. She was a great person and will be missed by many, especially for her recognizable laugh.

But last week's events really hit home and forced me and my staff to make some decisions about coverage that only a small community newspaper would typically have to make. Were they the right reasons? I am not sure but based on my own feelings, if imagining I was in the same situation, I think it was the right reason.

We heard the call on the scanner here in the office about a person that had been run over by a dump truck. Initially we weren't sure if it was someone run over or that the dump truck rolled over on someone. We also received a call at the office from the photographer that we use on occasion, saying he was heading for the scene from Kent. Knowing that I could be there quickly I said I'd also go. I arrived on the scene and was told to wait. I also was told that the driver had been transported to the hospital but that the accident victim was still under the truck. While waiting the television station camera crews arrived, as did our photographer and the Sheriff's Office public information officer. We were then escorted to the scene for photos, about 75 yards from the truck itself. At this point I had no idea who was killed, nor who the driver of the truck was.

We snapped the photos of her lying under the truck but I couldn't help but think, at the time, how peaceful the setting was as the sun tried to peer through the trees. By the time I made it back to the office the news was out through the grapevine that it was Tonya under the truck. The news hit home. I was just there, and so was she, not a good thought but sometimes the newspaper puts you in situations which might be news but not pleasant news.

The weekend passed and on Monday, while getting my morning cup of coffee, I was informed the driver of the truck was another longtime friend. The news hit doubly hard and my first thoughts went out to that friend and his family.

So went the events of the last few days. But then Monday afternoon came the realization that we were going to run a story about the accident on the front page and with some kind of photo. We basically had the same photo that ran on the front page of the King County Journal and we had the one that ran in last week's Valley Record. It was agonizing for me and a difficult choice for the editor who'd be doing the layout. In the end, after a lengthy discussion, and by putting ourselves in the situation of either of the affected families, the choice became easier. The scene had already been portrayed by our parent publication, why prolong the agony of either family by showing it again? Besides, we didn't want to replicate something that had already run on a front page.

So if you are wondering why we didn't run an abrasive front page photo, it's simple: We live here as well and in this case the story could be told without running it. I would want someone to do the same for me in a case like this - if my family was involved. Some may say I am being hypocritical, running such photos in certain situations but not in others. But where a name is printed in the paper corresponding to a photo of this kind of scene, it's not hypocritical at all. It's being compassionate.

My heart goes out to all affected by recent tragic events and those that have lost loved ones. All of these people will long be remembered and will always be missed.

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