We’ve been busy in the photo dept. You wouldn’t guess the newspaper industry has been hammered by the economy, based on the amazing amount of photos we have been shooting here at the Press Democrat.
The month of September was taken up with the Fort Bragg story of Aaron Bassler, who was suspected of killing Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo Aug. 27, and Albion resident Matthew Coleman, a land manager.
A core group of PD photographers and reporters spent hundreds of hours in Fort Bragg covering the story. It goes without saying that we have intimate knowledge of Highway’s 20 and 1, the arduous routes to Fort Bragg from Sonoma County.
Our access to this story was remarkable, which made for intelligent, insightful images which gave readers a more personal look on the unfolding story.
After Bassler fired shots at deputies at North Spur, near the Skunk Train right of way, Director of Photography Chad Surmick sent me up to get some pictures of the scene. Amazingly, after meeting up with reporter Glenda Anderson, we took Imurlco Road off of Highway 20 (six miles from Willits) down in to the tree lined canyon and found deputies preparing to once again gear up their search for the elusive gunman.
The road was okay. I kept thinking the two of us were going to be stopped by a law enforcement roadblock along the way, but weren’t.
Glenda and I descended further in to the forest abyss, realizing we were in a remote area where someone was on the loose with high powered weapons. It was downright weird.
The dirt road, used for logging trucks, was wide enough. We even encountered Lake County sheriff’s deputies who were driving back out of the forest, because they thought they had missed a turnoff. I told them that it was eight miles to the North Spur from Highway 20 and we were only about five miles in. They turned back around and we followed them…not closely, it was too dusty.
Co-photog Christopher Chung, who was sent up the day after me, thought it was “freaky” being down in the canyon. I concur with Chris, it was unnerving.
After what seemed like 26 miles, Glenda and I made it to North Spur. Save for the right of way of the railroad tracks, the forest is thick on the canyon floor. Whereas officers quoted from time to time that Bassler had a million places to hide, it could have been infinite. A person could stand three feet in front of you and be hidden. No joke.
Like all bizarre types of news stories I’ve covered over the years, the scene was surreal, stoic. The underlying stress it seemed was the peaceful setting of the forest. However you didn’t hear birds or any other wildlife for that matter, just the murmur of law enforcement voices and the occasional two-way radio traffic from police.
That Saturday Oct. 1 2011, Bassler was killed by sheriff’s officers from Sacramento, while walking on a logging road, nearly 14 miles from where Bassler fired on deputies just two days earlier. He was only three miles from his mothers home on Sherwood Road in Fort Bragg. On Oct. 2, reporter Julie Johnson and I took a pulse of the community and reaction to the end of the one month ordeal, by attending the Fort Bragg Grange Hall monthly breakfast. Most were relieved and saddened by the deaths of the three men.