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.
NBC affiliate 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.
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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 remnants, 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.