Texas TV Photographer Killed When Mast Hits Wires

Jun 9, 2004

Photojournalist Matthew Moore, 23, of KBTX-TV3 in College Station, TX, was killed in Hearne, TX, when the mobile broadcast mast he was deploying from the station's live news van came in contact with overhead power lines on Tuesday June 8. Moore was setting up to feed video back to the station from near Hearne High School's football field for a 6 p.m. newscast, after covering a gas well explosion in Robertson County.

[Fatally Injured: Matthew Moore, of KBTX-TV, died when the mast of his live van touched overhead wires. Photograph by KBTX-TV]

Reporter Jennifer Cavasos and two college interns with them were unharmed, but as a precaution they were taken to a hospital emergency room for examination. Station general manager and vice president Mike Wright said in a statement that Moore was electrocuted and critically injured, and soon thereafter was pronounced dead at the scene.

Moore, Cavasos, and the two student interns had been sent to cover a Robertson County oil well accident near Franklin, TX, that injured eight workers. The interns were identified as Erin Price, 22, and Amy LeFever, 22.

Reports from other photojournalists covering the oil well accident, who then went to the live truck's accident scene, said the KBTX-TV3 van was parked directly under power lines. One reporter said the KBTX-TV3 team had left the scene of the oil well accident to drive to nearby Hearne to file their story.

KBTX-TV3 said that Moore was from Temple, TX, and graduated with a journalism degree from Texas A&M University in 2003. He had worked for KBTX-TV3 in Bryan/College Station full time since September 2003.

Dusty Kraatz, 24, a KBTX-TV3 staff photographer, said Moore "was going to feed video from their story — and they were just pressed for time." Kraatz recalls that he "talked to Matt yesterday all the way out the door, and he was pumped to go out there and cover a big-deal news story."

George Howell is a reporter for KXAN-TV in Austin who arrived on the scene about an hour after the accident. "From what we could see, the mast had gone up to about the first level and had hit high voltage power lines," he said. The truck caught fire and burned. People nearby told Howell they heard the sound of a large explosion.

Kraatz says reporter Jennifer Cavasos probably saved her own life and the lives of the two student interns when she realized what was happening. "The van started to fill with smoke," Kraatz said Cavasos told them afterwards, "and she's been around live trucks before. All three of them said they could hear Matt." Kraatz said Cavasos knew the power lines were on the passenger side of the parked van, so she instructed the interns to leap out of the driver's side door and to run across the street. Cavasos followed them out of the van. The trio then ran across the street to a house where they called 911.

Moore was apparently outside the truck raising the mast, Kraatz said, when the mast touched the overhead power lines. "Then either he touched the truck, or leaned in to grab something and touched." Kraatz said this particular live van had mast controls that were on a box that hangs inside the van, but that it could be taken outside and used as a hand-held unit to operate the mast. "We don't have sensors on the mast to stop it from rising before it hits something," Kraatz said.

"The rain was really strong at times yesterday. It came and went in big downpours," Howell remembers. "I don't know, it would only be speculation, but maybe because of the rain he (Moore) didn't get a chance to see, or he didn't look up in the rain to see (the power lines)."

Howell said Hearne police chief Robert Parsley told him, "We couldn't get to him (Moore). He was between the truck and the fence. We told him not to touch the truck or the fence." Howell said rescue workers, who were unable to approach the van due to the electricity coming from the lines and into the truck, called the electric company in Waco, TX, and told them to kill power to the entire city of Hearne. "He (Parsley) didn't want to endanger the rescue personnel by letting them approach the electrified truck," Howell said.

While waiting for the power to be shut off, rescue workers used loudspeakers on their vehicles to tell Moore to not touch the truck and to not touch the fence, Howell said. "I was told that for about 40 minutes the workers could not approach the truck, and that he (Moore) was apparently in the truck but then he somehow touched the ground," Howell said. Chief Parsley told Howell afterwards that Moore "eventually touched the truck or the fence, and that resulted in him being killed."

"They were not going to do a live shot from there. There were no cables out or anything," Howell said. "Apparently they were just going to feed their story. I've heard it's hard to get shots out of there and in some of the nearby locations because of the geography, the valley, and that maybe this was one of the spots where you can feed video from Hearne. Maybe he thought this was one of the good spots where he could get his shots out," Howell said.

"There are times in the business when you're just moving so fast, you don't take that mandatory step (of looking up)," Howell said. "Maybe that's what happened."

Kraatz says coworker Moore "was one of my best friends. He was living in my apartment and I was staying with my girlfriend and in a few days he was going to move to Austin. He told me that it would just be a couple of weeks before he'd be gone, and that he'd interviewed at KXAN-TV in Austin and he was looking forward to going over there. We were all going to move to Austin at about the same time and set up shop there to see what kind of trouble we could get into," Kraatz said on the day following the accident. "He was still sending tapes to KXAN-TV in Austin — and this was another big story to add to his resume."

Chief Parsley said Tuesday night that Moore's death was "an accidental electrocution." The accident is under investigation by the Robertson County Sheriff's department because it's in their jurisdiction, but they refused to release any information on the accident and referred all calls to the Hearne police department. Parsley, who was a witness at scene of the accident, on Wednesday refused to make any additional comments on what he saw there, referring all questions to the Hearne city attorney, who was also unavailable for comment.

"We really helped each other out," Kraatz said. At one time the chief photographer at KBTX-TV3, Kraatz has since gone back to shooting. Remembering his good friend, he said, "I was feeling very uninspired when I was chief photographer. I was down and not enjoying doing the job any more. And Matt, something just clicked in him and he started shooting outstanding packages, and there was this protege feeling, and there would be something that I had showed him months ago and he'd call me into the edit bay and say, 'Hey, look what I shot.' He loved kids, and he loved sports. You could put him up against the best at ESPN and he'd blow anyone out of the water."

"Matt had the best dry sense of humor. He'd light up the room with his one-liners," Kraatz said. "Each day, each week, he would come back with better video. He was honestly one of the smartest guys I know, especially when it comes to sports trivia. The last couple of months he just lit up the newsroom, too. He had just hit the peak of his game and he showed no signs of stopping."

Todd Bynum, chief photographer for KXAN-TV in Austin, TX, says he talked to Moore on the telephone for a couple of hours "just less than a week ago. It's really odd, to spend a couple of hours of someone's life with them, and then this happens," Bynum said today.

"I can't emphasize enough how everyone in a live truck has to understand the whole concept of looking up and walking around a live van," Bynum said. It's my understanding there were four people with that truck, two interns, a reporter, and Moore, and everyone needs to follow the procedure of getting out and looking up. It's everyone's responsibility to play it safe. If you get in a hurry, you lose track. But that rule about getting out, walking around the live van, is so important. Sure it's important to make your slot, but it's more important to be very, very cautious and safe."