Reporter, Photographer Killed After Tree Strikes Vehicle in NC

Aaron Smeltzer, Mike McCormick
WYFF News 4

A news anchor and photographer were tragically killed in Polk County, North Carolina, Monday after a tree fell on their vehicle.

Master Trooper Murico Stephens told reporters that a tree fell on a WYFF-TV SUV carrying anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer at “around 2:30 p.m.,”  on U.S. Highway 176, near the town of Tryon.

McCormick and Smeltzer had just interviewed Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant. They told Tennant to be careful with Alberto’s remnant storm, 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-two inches (five centimeters) of rain that fell Monday from the fringes of Alberto for the deaths. The fire chief said the roots of the three-foot (91-centimeter) diameter tree were loosened from the ground saturated by a week’s worth of rain.

WYFF News 4 tweeted the station is “grieving,” over the deaths.

“We are a family,” WYFF News 4 Twitter account added.

Multiple reporters expressed their condolences in response to WYFF News 4 tweet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.