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Journalists arrested for trespassing in covering train accident

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Journalists arrested for trespassing in covering train accident

  • Three journalists in New Jersey were arrested for trespassing while attempting to cover the derailment of a train carrying 28,000 gallons of ethanol.

Feb. 19, 2004 — A reporter and two news photographers were arrested last week for allegedly trespassing at the scene of a freight train derailment in Woodbridge, N.J.

Reporter Tom Haydon and photographer Vic Yepello of The (Newark) Star-Ledger and photographer Mike Derer of The Associated Press were arrested Feb. 11 as they attempted to cover the derailment of three tanker cars that were carrying ethanol. Authorities evacuated about a dozen homes in the vicinity as a precaution, the AP reported.

Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel produced from corn, wheat or barley, and is often used as a gasoline additive.

“Journalists have to be respectful of the law, and at the same time do their jobs,” said Tom Curran, assistant managing editor of the Star-Ledger. “They were trying to show people how dangerous the situation was.”

The men were handcuffed and taken to the Woodbridge police station for allegedly trespassing on the private property of CSX/Norfolk Southern, owner of the Conrail train that derailed. Conrail operates more than 470 miles of rail lines in northern New Jersey, and another 370 miles in the Philadelphia/southern New Jersey area, according to the company’s Web site.

All three journalists claim they received permission from a homeowner to walk on that person’s property, which is located next to the tracks.

Bruce Rosen, a media attorney representing the AP, declined to comment on the arrests, which he defined as “quasi-criminal.”

Daniel Day, AP bureau chief in Trenton, said Derer was handcuffed to a bench at the police station, but none of the men were placed in holding cells. They were then released after being issued trespassing citations.

“The fact that they were handcuffed is unfortunate,” said Rick Everett, managing editor-news of the Star-Ledger. “But authorities claim that it was standard police procedure.”

According to a Feb. 12 article in the Star-Ledger, the three tankers were carrying 28,000 gallons of ethanol when they derailed, one toppling onto its side. No ethanol leaked from any of the tanks, so residents were permitted to return to their homes early the next day.


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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