Crime reporter tracks down mystery bus company

Finding leads and following clues? Just a day in the life for journalist Douglass Dowty.

“High school student threatened his director,” said the voice coming out of the police scanner on the desk. The reporter quickly picked up the phone connected to the police scanner to listen to the remaining information about the incident.  The police scanner, supported by 911 centers, is one of the tools that crime reporters at The Post-Standard use to learn about crimes taking place in Syracuse.

Photo: Eesha Patkar

“Just another kid,” said Douglass Dowty after listening to the call. Dowty, a crime reporter at The Post-Standard, wakes up every morning to news about crime in the Syracuse area. 

Last Wednesday, a Mercedes Benz van owned by a Syracuse bus company rolled over on Interstate 380 on its way from New York City's Chinatown to Binghamton, killing one passenger and injuring 15. The next day, Dowty followed up on the story for his paper.

Information about the company was scarce at first.

“We need to find out if this company has any violation record, if it’s one of those companies that transport people from Chinatown in New York City to other places illegally, or if this is just an accident,” Dowty said.

Crime reporting is an essential kind of journalism. Reporters like Dowty must dig deep for a story and learn to extract sensitive information from people. But most importantly, crime reporters have to deal with the police departments in order to be able to give readers a clear picture of the crime.

“In terms of the police, it depends on who you're talking to,” Dowty said. “If you get the right person then you will get the information you need. But in more serious crimes they are less cooperative."

In the case of a homicide, Dowty said, the police officers won’t release information because they are trying to find the perpetrator of the crime.

By noon, Dowty had contacted several departments, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, but no one had gotten back to him with the company’s previous records. After attempting to contact the bus company for a comment, Dowty discovered that it was registered in two different locations; one was a pizza store.

“The whole point of today’s story is to figure out whether this company has a bad record or not. The federal motor department should help me get this answer,” he said before heading out to visit the two addresses that the bus company listed as its headquarters.

At the first address Dowty visited, there was no sign on the door indicating that the office belonged to the bus company. Inside, there was a furnished waiting room with no customers and one austere secretary.

“I cannot give you any information; the manager is not here,” the secretary replied to Dowty's first question about the company.

Unfazed, Dowty asked a few more questions about the business. Finding the secretary unwilling to help, he left his contact information for the manager before leaving.

After arriving at the second address, Dowty found a vacant pizza place instead of a bus company.

“See, you can spend the whole day and have no story at the end," Dowty said, shrugging.

When Dowty returned to the office, however, he discovered that the federal motor department had replied to his earlier inquiry. The rollover was an isolated incident; they had clear records for the past two years.

In this case, Dowty's story had an ending. Read the final result.

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