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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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10/24/2013 6:02:00 AM
Hotshots' families say 'absolutely not' to records release
Tamara Sone
The Daily Courier

CAMP VERDE - The battle between Phoenix Newspapers Inc., KPMX Broadcasting Company, and Yavapai County over the release of records from the Yarnell Hill fire continued on Wednesday with testimony from Granite Mountain Hotshots' family members at the County Superior Court in Camp Verde.

Gannett-owned Phoenix Newspapers Inc. and KPMX Broadcasting Company, which represent The Arizona Republic and 12 News, re-spectively, are requesting the release of hundreds of photos and documents surrounding the Yarnell Hill fire and the death of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.

None of the records the media company is requesting contain photos of human remains or personal effects, said David Bodney, attorney for the Republic and 12 News.

According to Bodney, the records request "allows members of the public to assess the conduct of the sheriff's office."

Several wives and family members of the 19 fallen Hotshots filled the courtroom Wednesday to patiently wait their turn to take the stand.

The hearing began with attorneys from both sides arguing over what images and video journalists from The Daily Courier, Arizona Republic and 12 News were allowed to capture during the three- and-a-half-hour long hearing.

County attorney Sheila Polk, along with attorney Michael Pearson, who represents several of the Hotshots' family members, requested that photos and video not be taken of any of the firefighters' family members.

"It's interesting to note that Channel 12 News is party to this lawsuit, and they want to videotape the very witnesses that are being forced to testify in order to assert their privacy rights," Polk said. "It is somewhat inherently contradictory to cause a hearing to be held ... and at the same time expect the witnesses to be on statewide and possibly national news."

Bodney retorted to Polk's request by referencing how "one witness ... appeared to not be camera-shy," possibly referring to widow Juliann Ashcraft. Bodney questioned how fair it would be to assert privacy issues in the courtroom.

While Judge Michael R. Bluff did allow still and video cameras into the room, photographers were warned not to take images or video of any family members.

With more than 10 family members scheduled to take the stand, only four were able to testify in the short time period.

Juliann Ashcraft was first up to talk about how the release of the records would affect her and her four children.

"Every single bit of that ground is sacred ground and should not be photographed for the media," Ashcraft said. "I don't think there is a one of us that would argue that this is not intrusive, and (it) will not help us in healing."

Widows Desiree Steed and Marsena Thurston followed Ashcraft on the stand. And, like Ashcraft, when it came to whether they felt that the public had a right to view the records, both women responded with a resounding "absolutely not."

"Those photos were already looked at by people that were qualified to make judgments," Steed said. "I don't understand why a journalist from The Arizona Republic thinks they can do a better job."

Dan Parker, a captain with the Chino Valley Fire District and father of fallen Hotshot Wade Parker, 22, was last to take the stand for the day. Parker's emotional testimony brought tears to many people in the gallery. "I was actually on duty that evening, and I went out there to locate my son," Parker said, choking up.

Bodney also asked family members whether the city ever paid for the firefighters' cellphones. According to all four family members, the city never paid for the Hotshots' cellphones.

The hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 9 a.m. and again on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the County Superior Court in Camp Verde.

Follow Tamara Sone on Twitter @PDCtsone.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, November 05, 2013
Article comment by: @Kathrynn Funston

I am not sure who your daughter is but, based on your comment of having a brand new baby grandson, I can bet the one I was referring to is most certainly NOT your daughter.

Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2013
Article comment by: Bill Hughes

Back when all of this heated discussion began in response to money for the families, no one had a clue how much money would be raised in donations. The families knew very little, except about benefits and government payouts. The benefits the six are receiving are coming from what their husband's paid into the system. The government payout has not been paid out, nor have the large donations been received by the families. When widows began asking in the media for donations and benefits it was because of FEAR. They were in fear of raising their children with nothing. Without the money their husbands were bringing home each month. The moneys that have been raised so far have greatly exceeded anything that was even imagined and that is not the fault of any of the families. Heat was placed on the city council because of years of disrespectful treatment they brought to the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Since the city manager took his position many in the city, including the hotshots have feared for their jobs. Daily. There was so much pressure in Station 7 because of the city council and that is all information the residents of Prescott do not… (Exceeds 200-word limit)

Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Article comment by: Mr Maverick

Why can't people just leave them alone? Intrusive individuals and most just need to mind their own business. Prescott first screwed them by not paying proper full benefits and then did away with the Hotshot program.

Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Article comment by: For the Record

In an article on 10/24 the AP stated, just like the story above did, the following

"The media organizations are requesting investigative records and photos from the scene of the June 30 fire, but not photos of human remains or personal effects.

Media attorney David Bodney said the requested documents are public records that would allow the public to assess the performance of public officials and the reasons for the deaths of all but one member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots."

The public records act allows these requests. This request should be granted. Even many of those who support the Tobin bill, (retroactively changing the rules to financially benefit the part-timers) believe this is a bit too much to ask. And even if some of the comments here may not meet with Ms. Funston's approval,it seems that the reason these issues have gotten so heated, began with the atmosphere her side promulgated towards the Mayor and Council in order to procure millions of dollars in retroactive unmerited benefits. Ignoring the First Amendment seems a little too much to ask to appease a group that seemingly does not understand what is being requested.

Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Article comment by: Kathryn Funston

Let it Go, my daughter has not used the media for any financial gain!!! Like Sandy Hook, Catrina and Super Storm Sandy, people donate because they want to help. In Fact, the media TOOK without permission photos from my daughters facebook page for their own coverage. Family and friends decided "in an instance" that they would help and started fundraisers because it was unknown what she would get regarding benefits as her husband was a seasonal, part time employee. Check out what these guys made to put their lives on the line for "YOUR" safety. get a life, and again, why do you go under an "stage" name??

Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Article comment by: Kathryn Funston

Granville Gran WHAT THE H... are your qualifications!!!! you need to go away. You are the most disrespectful human being I have ever encountered. you have no clue. And "Apoligies to Ann" I pray you are never in these young girls position. Why is it that you two feel the need to not put your real names??? Is it that you are dishonest, disrespectful pieces of ....?? My "brand new grandson's WONDERFUL, LOYAL. LOVING, TOTALY "CLEAN" (never did anything wrong) ALL AMERICAN FATHER is a HERO and you people need to go to court and argue your point in public!!!! I have heard enough. there is nothing to hide, there is only graphic pictures and questions that ONLY the families need to ask and have answered and if those answers need to be revealed to the proper enties for future assistance in fighting fires, than so be it. If you don't want to help these famnilies than DON'T but don't go around spreading rumors that you know nothing about. just so you all know, these young families have not received any benefits yet. Only the 100 club has helped them and private donations for some of the individule families that true FRIENDS have set up. READ The REPORT. It tells a lot. Stop with your uneducated and 'selfish" "self absorbed" comments!!!

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Article comment by: @ let it go

1- as the story indicates, Gannett is NOT asking for pictures of the victims. They never have.

2- Kudos on the toxicology comments.

3- Mr Turbyfill commented on this link. His remarks are markedly different than your interpretation.

4- After reading 100's of non attributed comments claiming the agency to speak for the widows, families, and others...its hard to these posts without saying that there are more than a few people who need to "let it go." We appreciate your stated concerns about non release of records, that have not been asked for.

Its like this. My parents knew JFK. I know a nephew (RFK had a lot of kids). My parents were very upset in 1963, but were not writing letters to the editor trying to quash the Warren Commission. (Neither was RFK) I do not think I'll post here purporting to speak for Jackie's ghost or my friends without attribution either as the anniversary approaches.There are scores of people who think the initial report was incomplete, and does not serve the purpose of preventing another Yarnell. These uninformed letters, executed without reading the comments, stories, or records request are simply drama. Access to media has raised millions of dollars for the victims. It does not come with the right to quash a needed search for truth on a false premise.

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Article comment by: Let it Go

Wow!! 1. Toxicology reports came back clean 2. There is one widow making absurd demands. Do not put the rest in that group! 3. Granville Gran~ you have no idea the qualifications of those that performed the investigation. They were brought in from outside the area for a non biased and complete investigation. 4. Mr Turbyfill does not want photos of his son released. He doesn't want to see them and doesn't want his daughter in law or grandchildren to see them either.

You people are out of control! While I am not a "family" member in the blood sense of the fallen, I know several of them, their families and they are my fire family. These men were human. They aren't gods or fictional movie characters that you can just pick apart and show all vulnerabilities of. They took their kids to the park, went grocery shopping, watched movies and so on just like you and me. Leave them alone. It is time Joe Q Public backs off and let's it go.

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Article comment by: curious citizen

OK , I have a possiable solution here.How about if the records stay sealed, and the famlies (all of them, spouses, parents,siblings,grandparents,cousins,aunts ,uncles etc) all sign off on this, no one will ever see them, now and in the future, no books, no movies, no stories, no more publicity or or any more ways to make MONEY from this.
So no one will see anything, but then you cannot use these reports for a future law suit against anyone or any municipality,or agency...
Then the privacy will be protected...
unless if course, someone, somewhere along the way has all this info...and I would not be surprised if it surfaces in a manner that none of the famlies will be able to control or profit from...

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Article comment by: Bill Hughes

Apologies to Ann-
You make it seem as if Ann Coulter wrote what she did about the GMIHC widows, but in truth it was aimed at the 9/11 widows instead :
In her new book, “Godless,” right-wing pundit Ann Coulter writes of the 9/11 widows:

These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzies. I have never seen people enjoying their husbands’ death so much.

They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing bush was part of the closure process.”

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013
Article comment by: Apologies to Ann

After reading these letters it seems that the couple of alleged family members posting here (anonymously) seem unaware that Yarnell was an event that affected the entire state. They act if the tragedy only happened to them.

To paraphrase conservative icon Ann Coulter, they believe the entire state is required to "marinate in their exquisite personal agony."

Coulter stated back then, "Apparently denouncing Bush was an important part of their closure process.” Now we see history repeated again on this matter, except now the name has been changed to Kuykendall and/or (ironically) the same media one has leveraged so well.

Coulter was attacked for saying “These .... are millionaires lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities, and stalked by ‘grieferazzis." I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.”

Until reading this story, and a few of these comments, I thought these sentiments were profoundly harsh. But after watching all the benefits demanding, mayor attacking, and now press censoring behavior, one can understand where Coulter was coming from.

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013
Article comment by: Freda Jeffries

The investigative report was enough knowledge for the general public. Families and friends of the fallen do not need to be exposed to anything more let the firefighters rest in peace and their loved ones to carry on. Should the Republic and Ch. 12 continue this action, they have lost a long time subscriber.

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013
Article comment by: What are they trying to hide?

The families opposing this, are asking for yet another exception to existing laws. The county is supporting this, because there are always legal implications to an objective oversight of this matter by a media operation with strong resources. They may be concerned with fending off potential and perhaps frivolous wrongful death suits that might ensue. They (like the media) are doing their jobs, though we might oppose their position.

In all the posts opposing the release of this information, there seems to be no heed paid to what is being requested. Pictures of victims and effects are not. They never were either.

So we return to the same questions.. There are public records laws in place. But these are not being used to print images that would offend. and never will be. Our collective sympathy raised millions on behalf of those affected. But our gratitude is not a license to be emotionally blackmailed into making poor precedents for the future, no matter how often one person yells at the Council...or grabs camera time. The only interest here is drama that does not prevent this happening again, to another person's loved one. I supported the families on the benefits matter, but believe in transparency much more. What are they trying to hide? For the requests are not being made by TMZ or the tabloids?

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013
Article comment by: Granville Gran

@ Cher Smith:

Yes, I believe there are a LOT of people in this country more qualified to look at the details of this situation to prevent it from happening again. The handful that led the investigation are not in any sense of the word, top experts in the field. Imo, keeping the evidence shielded to "protect" the families is a selfish, self centered ploy to exercise a power they don't have.

There would be no graphic photos released. Only photos of the scene which just may offer some additional insight to fresh eyes.

It is the height of selfishness to attempt to deny the public access to public photos on the flimsy excuse that it might bother survivors when the potential to add additional information that may save a life down the line is possible. Those lives matter too...

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013
Article comment by: S D

To those that feel it's the law, release the photos. I would like to suggest you do some research. While it's true there is a public records law, there is also a stipulation that states if more harm than good can come from the release, such as photos of Sandy Hook children as someone else pointed out, than they can be sealed. One report has already been released. Another investigation is in the works. The photos have been released to those who are trained in dealing with this and will be used to help future firefighters, as they should. The photos would not help the average person except to assuage a disturbing curiosity. They do however have the potential to harm the families and children left behind.

Also, anyone stop to think why a law suit has only been brought out by one media entity out of all the publications in the country?

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013
Article comment by: S D

To Granville Gran: to continue my earlier post. Victims from car accidents usually only have a picture published once. We have been dealing with this for four months with many more to come.

It's about the truth: how would you know the families aren't united? Truth is just about every local family was represented as well as at least one from out of the area. In fact so many families were in attendance that the courts ran out of time to hear everyone's testimony and two other dates were added to the agenda. As far as the images not "upsetting people". Do we not count? There are close to 900 family members who would disagree. Body bags and blown out fire shelters are very upsetting and that is what they want.

Mike Jervis: toxicology reports came back clean.

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013
Article comment by: Granville Gran

@SD: In response to your comment to me:

What you should have learned from the photos of the car wreckage in which 3 died was that your loved one is absolutely no more important or protected than anyone else.

What you should have realized is that although the public realizes you have suffered a loss, most find you no more important than the families of the people who died in the car crash.

What you should have learned is that many of us drive those roads daily and have experiences with near accidents which may help authorities. Also, even if we don't have that experience, the public has a right to the information for whatever purpose they choose. Yes, even curiosity. The other families are dealing with it fine, and the public has embraced them and their loss.

What you should have learned is that although you suffered a loss, your constant selfish demands to ignore laws, change city policy to benefit your families after the fact, etc., etc. are wearing thin on the public.

We respect your dead. Not the ludicrous antics of their survivors.

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Article comment by: S D

As a surviving family member, I wanted to make a few points to some of the commenters.

John Updike: your comment that this "has got nothing to do with "grieving families"...the grieving families are merely witnesses in the case". Is false. This case has gone to court on the families behalf. It's all about the grieving families and those who died before them.

Completely ABSURD Arguments: the state has never taken care of my family through public assistance as well as many of the other families that I know. Also, no monetary donations have been distributed from the donations as of yet.

Captain Howdy: nobody has suggested that no one is allowed to take pictures or walk on the "hollowed ground". It has simply been suggested that the pictures taken directly after the tragedy not be released for public curiosity. There is a memorial set up in Yarnell public for anyone who cares to go there.

Granville Gran: Did you gain valuable knowledge from viewing the car crash photos that would help you in preventing another car crash? I know I didn't and although I can't speak for that family, I am sure they don't care to ever view that photo again. Aside… (Exceeds 200-word limit)

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Article comment by: Cher Smith

"The only way to assure this disaster does not happen to more firefighters is to have as many eyes as possible look at the facts." Graville Gran.
So, basically, you are saying that the public, the media, and everyone else out there is MORE educated, MORE experienced in viewing these things than the people who were initially given the photos, the items and were at the scene? What a bunch of BS. People know all they need to know. And as for toxicology reports, Mr. Mike Jervis, wtf do they matter? These guys were ON THE JOB fighting a fire, not partying on the sidelines and passing a joint back and forth. What they do on their HOME TIME is NONE of your damn business. And considering NONE of them had been home in a bit, you can be assured they were CLEAN, ... People need to leave the families alone and move on with their lives. It's called RESPECT, which darn few in America show anymore toward anyone. You are all about RESPECT but not willing to show any or accept responsibility for anything. Quit dragging the families through more heartache. All they want is to heal, mourn their loved ones in peace and adjust to a life without them. You people refuse to let them alone and keep hurting them cause of your morbidity.

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Article comment by: It's STILL about the truth

The story is not about Gannett asking for pictures, graphic images, or anything sensational or offensive.It's the intention of the outlets involved to do their job in a free society - which is to perform oversight over government.

We are looking at a rather flawed incident report, and yet another situation where these understandably upset people, are asking for another exception to an existing law to suit their percieved self interests. Mr. Turbyfill and Mr. Bowden are correct in their remarks .There are questions that need to be asked and answered, that just might save the lives of others down the road.

Few places in memory have done as much as this area, in response to these families and their pain. We have donated millions to countless fundraisers , and joined in the family's favor on the benefits issues. No matter how awful we each feel about the horror of Yarnell, support of this exception to a long standing public records act, is finally a bit too much to ask. Especially when the more histrionic comments on this matter are not based on what the media requests. Our sympathy cannot trump both existing law, and the functioning of the free press.

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Article comment by: Mike Jervis

Why are the toxicology results (made at taxpayer expense) not made public? Are they covering up something? It is of record that some of the 19 had been through drug rehab.

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Article comment by: Leave them ALONE

Desiree said it best. "I don't understand why a journalist from The Arizona Republic thinks they can do a better job." It doesn't matter who paid for the investigations. There comes a time when this little media circus surrounding them needs to end. The media searching this information is only doing it to make more money and earn more ratings. It has NOTHING to do with finding any truths. The truths are what they are and everyone already knows what happened. It is time for them to be able to grieve privately and start rebuilding their lives. This mess is only rubbing salt into their wounds. The information in the reports will help in the future training and equipment developments. That information is available to those who need it. Not Joe Smith wanting to see the photos on Give them hell Desiree and Marsena!!!

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Article comment by: C M

@ it's about the truth. Who cares if Amanda was upset and lashed out at the mayor and who cares if Ms. Ashcraft is not camera shy. God forbid you lose your spouse and we will see how you react! These women had their loved ones practically burned to death and all you care about is "how they acted?"
The only reason why people want to see these records/pictures are because they are sick and morbid! How can these families move on with everyone constantly reminding them of the tragic event!
And whoever said that these men are not heros, well they are totally ignorant! They died trying to save others, nature, and the things that people owned.
My husband was in the Hotshots years ago and worked with two of these men that died. Unless you have been in that position or a family member of a hotshot then you really need to think twice before you talk because you make yourselves look ignorant!
Try comforting your husband in the middle of the night when he wakes up straight in bed from having nightmares, sweat all over his body and crying thinking that if he had been there he could have saved them.
It's has affected him greatly and you have in idea how much worse it is affecting the families!
Who cares about , We'll it's public record and we have a right to see the records and we pay for their jobs and blah blah blah. When did this great country become so harden in their hearts that they forget about caring for each other and putting others first. Where are the morals and values of this land. When did we stop caring for one another and only care about ourselves and what we can get out of it.
Don't judge these women and their families until you have walked a mile in their shoes because that would mean you no longer have a husband, father, brother, son, uncle, or nephew.
Come on people, let it go! What is in the reports that you have to absolutely see? Why is it your right to know about their deaths? We all know that you did not care when they were born and you sure did not want to read about their life stories when they were living, so what gives you the right to know about their deaths. Sure, let them investigate so it does not happen again, but if you don't work for the forest service, then butt out!

Posted: Saturday, October 26, 2013
Article comment by: Kathryn Funston

DITTO Prescott Strong. If the public wants to see, then take a trip to AZ and see for your self! And for the Media to say now that they don't want any photos of personal property or of the mens bodies is rediculous!!! What do you think the family memebers are attending these hearings for??? Believe me, there will be other reports that come out of this and there will likely be some of the families that want more answers and will in fact hire private attorneys/investigators, etc. to follow up on the reports and investigate the situation. But none of that benefits the general public. Do you think it would benefit the general public if they (the media) show pictures of the little children of Sandy Hook shot and dead??? NO. And those records/photos were sealed!!!
And soon the building will be gone and only a memorial will stand in its place!! (for the public)

Posted: Saturday, October 26, 2013
Article comment by: It's about the truth

"None of the records the media company is requesting contain photos of human remains or personal effects, said David Bodney, attorney for the Republic and 12 News. "

So what is really the issue here? It's obvious the families are not united against this. The outlets are not asking for images that upset people. they are doing their job. Just like they did publicizing the sides of the benefits issue. Has anybody really discerned what is being asked for?

I seem to recollect that Amanda Marsh disrespectfully attacked the Mayor over releasing information we had a right to know, and headed for the microphones. I seem to recollect Juliann was hardly camera shy either. The media certainly carried their attacks on the city. Now they want to seal the public record for reasons that are not really right. The families will always have our sympathies. That does not include muzzling a free press.

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