Don Phelps - worked at 31 from 1985 to 2002


It was the last commercial break in the 6:00 News. Heather Burns and I were waiting to do the last couple of stories when the door, next to the set, flung open. There stood a wild-eyed young man in his 20's. He was wearing a sweat drenched white t-shirt, blue jeans, and no shoes.

Before Heather and I can react, a slender hand grabs the man by the back of his shirt and drags him out of the studio. The door slammed just as the commercial break ended. We heard some scuffling and bumping at the door while we finished the last block of news, but the man never made back into the studio before we finished the newscast.

We didn't know who the man was but we knew the hand belonged to Yodie Lockhart. Soon the lobby was crawling with police. We could see bits and pieces of what was going on, through the door's window, as we were cutting the teases for the 10:00 newscast.

Just as we were getting ready to leave the set and find out what in the world was going on a police officer came into the studio and asked us to keep our seats.

He explained the man was a patient on the mental health ward at Huntsville Hospital. From his room he could see the cross on Monte Sano Mountain and the flashing lights on the T-V tower. The young man escaped from the hospital and ran all the way up the mountain in his stocking feet. He knew if he could get on channel 31 he could talk directly to God. The officer said the young man was very agitated, and refused to leave until he talked to God.

The officer feared they were going to have to hurt the young man to get him out of the station. The officer then asked if we could put him on T.V. The officer was convinced if the guy had his say he would leave with them quietly.

There was no way we were going to put this guy on live T.V.!!! So I suggested we take the monitors off the "On-air" signal and put a program feed into them.

Heather and I faked the ending of the newscast, tossed to this guy who was in the studio with us now. He had his say and was now a happy camper. The studio crew and Tim Clemmons and the production crew played along with it. They took a bump shot from the set and even rolled the close to the newscast. It was so real one of the cops askedů. "You really didn't put him on T.V. did you?"

Two weeks later the guy shows up at the station again in his stocking feet. This time the police told him he would have to communicate with God the normal way, by prayer.

© 2003 Smith Broadcasting, Inc. [update 7-8-2003]