North Carolina emergency officials said a South Carolina TV anchor and photojournalist were killed Monday when a tree fell on their news vehicle while they covered storm damage.
WYFF-TV confirmed Monday night that weekend anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer died in the incident along U.S. Highway 176 in Polk County, North Carolina. The two had been covering rainfall from the outer edges of Subtropical Storm Alberto. The same highway was the site of mudslides two weeks ago which killed a woman at her home.
Despite the close proximity, Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant said it appeared the tree fell due to oversaturated soil, rather than a mud slide. He said McCormick and Smeltzer were driving when the tree fell. “The vehicle was apparently in motion, because when we got to the vehicle, the engine was running and the transmission was in drive,” he told reporters in a press conference.
Tennant said he had spoken in an interview with McCormick less than 15 minutes before the crash. “We had talked a little bit about how he wanted us to stay safe and how we wanted him to stay safe,” the chief told reporters. “Then… 10 or 15 minutes later, we get the call and it was him and his photographer.”
McCormick had been with the station for 11 years, including the past four as the Sunday evening anchor. Smeltzer joined the NBC affiliate’s Spartanburg bureau earlier this year.
“All of us at WYFF News 4 are grieving. We are a family and we thank you, our extended family, for your comfort as we mourn and as we seek to comfort the families of Mike and Aaron,” the station posted in its announcement.
They are the first South Carolina journalists killed on the job since FOX Carolina assignment editor Joe Loy was struck by a van while covering a crash in 2009.