Monday, June 18, 2012

Where’s the dignity?

For the family of a missing driver, there isn’t a worse feeling than being thousands of miles away from where their loved one was last seen. Unless it’s hearing a botched report of his disappearance.

In the days after the family of OOIDA member and owner-operator Surat Nuenoom reported him missing from his hotel room on March 15, they depended on law enforcement to look for him, as well as the local media to get the word out to the public to look for him.

And while the Williams County, OH, sheriff’s office did all they could to find Surat – conducting a scuba search, a K-9 search and a helicopter search in the area where he was last spotted, it was a single news report by WTOL News 11 in Toledo that appeared to have brought the public’s search for Surat to a screeching halt.

That news report, “New developments in the Williams Co. hotel disappearance,” aired on a Toledo television station on March 19, four days after Surat was reported missing and – from what we now know – the day that Surat drowned in the retention pond near his hotel room.

The reporter interviewed a source for the story, who claimed Surat showed up at his garage sale that was at a parking lot, told him his name was “Surat,” and then purchased items from him, including a chainsaw. The station also ran surveillance footage of what they “confirmed” to be Surat arriving and leaving the sale in a stolen Cadillac Escalade.

However, the news station never called Surat’s family to confirm that the man in the video was actually him before they ran the story. They also didn’t share this information with Williams County Sheriff Kevin Beck, lead investigator in the case, to confirm any of the information with his department first.

Surat’s family drove from New Hampshire to Toledo to view the footage and to prove that it wasn’t him. While the station later pulled down the story that aired, the damage to Surat’s reputation and his family had been done.

It was nearly two months later that Surat was found drowned in a retention pond near the Ramada Inn in Holiday City, OH, where he was staying. While the news station later reported that dental records confirmed it was him, they never clarified that their previous news report had been wrong – that it wasn’t Surat in the surveillance video.

But the damage to Surat’s reputation was done, which is a real shame considering what they could have reported about him. They should have said that he was a native of Thailand, but became a U.S. citizen and later served his country in the U.S. Air Force, and then later worked for KBR to bring supplies to our troops in Iraq. That he was a husband, a father, a grandfather and a professional truck driver.