Two WYFF-TV Journalists Killed By Falling Tree In Polk County

May 28, 2018

 

TRYON, N.C. (AP) — A TV news anchor and a photojournalist were killed Monday when a tree fell on their vehicle in North Carolina as they reported on flooding and severe weather associated with Subtropical Storm Alberto, the television station said.

WYFF-TV Anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer both worked in the Greenville, South Carolina, market for more than a decade, anchor Carol Goldsmith said on air, breaking the news.

"Mike and Aaron were beloved members of our team — our family," Goldsmith said.

The men were driving on U.S. Highway 176 near Tryon when the large tree fell on their vehicle, North Carolina Highway Patrol Master Trooper Murico Stephens said.

McCormick and Smeltzer had just interviewed Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant. They told Tennant to be careful with Alberto's remnant expected to bring more heavy rains and mudslides this week. He told them to be careful too.

"Ten minutes later we get the call and it was them," Tennant said at a news conference, his voice cracking.

A woman died in a mudslide on May 19 not far from the wreck and officials in Polk County were asking people living in vulnerable areas to voluntary leave before the weather got worse.

Neither Stephens nor Tennant directly blamed the up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain that fell Monday from the fringes of Alberto for the deaths. The fire chief said the roots of the 3-foot (91-centimeter) diameter tree were loosened in ground saturated by a week's worth of rain.

The TV vehicle engine's was still running and the transmission was in drive when crews found it. The men died instantly, said Tennant, who called the deaths a "freak of nature."

McCormick was a weekend anchor for the Greenville station and covered Spartanburg and surrounding areas. He came to the station in April 2007.

Smeltzer worked in Greenville for more than a decade, coming to WYFF-TV from a different station in the market. He touted on his Twitter biography of winning four Emmys.

WHNS-TV reporter Derek Dellinger competed with McCormick and Smeltzer, but also considered them friends. He called Smeltzer a perfectionist and McCormick a hard worker and a nice guy.

"Despite being the competition, I had interactions with (McCormick) both in and out of work, and we would talk about work issues, talk about life — everything, because we were in such a similar position at our respective stations," Dellinger said, calling him "a good guy" with a warm heart.

EARLIER VERSION OF STORY -

TRYON, N.C. (AP) — The Latest on a television crew killed in by a falling tree in North Carolina (all times local):

6:55 p.m.

A fire chief in North Carolina says he spoke to a TV anchor and his photojournalist out of South Carolina 10 minutes before they were struck and killed by a falling tree.

Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant's voice broke Monday as he talked about recognizing the WYFF-TV vehicle under the large tree and the two men dead inside on U.S. Highway 176 near Tryon.

Tennant said at a news conference that WYFF-TV anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer told him to be safe as Subtropical Storm Alberto was expected to bring more flooding and mudslides to Polk County. Tennant says he told the TV crew to be safe, too.

Tennant thinks the roots of the 3-foot (91-centimeter) diameter tree were loosened in ground saturated by a week's worth of rain.

The fringes of Alberto brought up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain to the area Monday.

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6:25 p.m.

A North Carolina state trooper says a tree fell across a highway, crushing a vehicle from a South Carolina television station and killing a TV anchor and photojournalist.

Master Trooper Murico Stephens says the tree struck the WYFF-TV vehicle around 2:30 p.m. Monday on U.S. Highway 176 near Tryon. The area received heavy rain from the fringes of Subtropical Storm Alberto.

WYFF-TV says anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer were heading to a story when they were killed.

Anchor Carol Goldsmith said on air that McCormick and Smeltzer were "beloved members of our team — our family."

The tree fell in Polk County not far from where a landslide killed a woman in her home on May 19 after heavy rains.

WYFF-TV is based in Greenville, South Carolina.