Seven Questions for KSNV Channel 3’s Tom Hawley

The longtime transportation and history buff on drones, a plane crash that shook the Valley and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Tom Hawley | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Tom Hawley | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

You’ve reported on traffic since 1988 and full-time with Channel 3 since 1995. What drew you to transportation?

I was a junior assistant news guy for a local radio station, and they decided to do traffic reports, got a helicopter and assigned me to it. From there I found an interest in it and got more into the transportation aspects. Sometime in the ’90s, in addition to being a reporter, I became a journalist—which I don’t necessarily consider the same thing. Pointing out where accidents are is important and what the TV station wants to do, but it’s not the same thing as researching and interviewing and writing. That’s something that developed on the job here.

How has spending tens of thousands of hours in a helicopter over traffic affected your views as a motorist?

It’s easy for people to be angry and frustrated because we all drag in traffic, and people will say, “What idiot designed this?” But while there are mistakes out there, most people don’t appreciate the challenges that engineers and traffic planners face. …

Many things could be done [to improve traffic], but the money’s not there to do them. The current traditional system of fuel taxes is broken. As cars are getting more fuel-efficient and we’re going to electric cars, that’s putting fewer dollars in per-mile traveled every year. There needs to be a new model.

Can drones be a useful tool for covering traffic?

Drones are a horrible idea as anyone who flies would tell you. It’s not a matter of if there will be a drone versus aircraft accident, it’s when. We’ll see if laws are revised whenever that happens. I hate drones.

How did Video Vault come about?

Our tapes go back to 1980 (with film back to 1975), and they rarely get used. I would go through them and once in a while use something for background for a story. People liked seeing this old stuff, and then eventually, I don’t even know that it was my idea, we decided to put a name on it and make it a regular segment. It gathered steam.

Some individual stories provide context and background [to current events]. For example, a young woman, Debra Anderson, was killed while crossing Maryland Parkway in 1980. She was blind, and she and her seeing-eye dog were hit [by an impaired, speeding driver]. To this day it affects people who remember her, and it felt good to keep her memory alive. It led to changes on Maryland Parkway [at Harmon Avenue], which ended up saving lives.

What’s your favorite Video Vault?

I was fast-forwarding through this video from 1981 and stumbled across footage of a plane on a golf course. I looked at it, and I realized that’s the scene in Casino. At the time we interviewed a boy who was playing tennis out there, and luckily they mention the boy’s name on the tape. I was able to track him down, and he was former Assemblyman David Goldwater! So we were able to use both 10-year-old David Goldwater and 40-something David Goldwater, put the two together, along with the real video from the actual incident and the movie footage. That was fun!

You’ve covered local disasters such as the MGM Grand fire and the Pepcon explosions in Video Vault, but have there been other incidents that are overlooked?

In 1964, a F-105 took off from Nellis Air Force Base, heading south and over North Las Vegas and lost power. The jet was going down toward Lincoln Elementary School, and everyone generally agrees that pilot Raynor Hebert stayed with the aircraft and rode it down so that he’d steer away from the school. [He avoided the school but] crashed into a neighborhood and destroyed several houses. Hebert was killed as were several people on the ground. If you can imagine that in 1964 when it was a much smaller city, that was the biggest tragedy that people had seen up until that point.

You got a helicopter pilot’s license in 1991, but haven’t flown yourself since the mid-’90s. Ever feel like taking the controls again?

No. It was quite fun [to get a license], and I’m glad I learned how to fly, but if I never fly another day in a helicopter, it’s fine. I’ve got my helicopter thrills.  … Maybe it would surprise me to say that 20 years ago, [when] what it was all about for me was the helicopter. Nowadays it’s much more interesting for me to research and write than it is to fly a helicopter.

You’ve hiked Mount Kilimanjaro up to Gilman’s Point (more than 18,000 feet elevation). Anything else on your bucket list?

I’ve been to Kilimanjaro twice, and for different reasons I didn’t get to the summit. I’m considering going back a third time, but’s that’s a lot of time and money. I would also like to climb Mount Fuji. I hope to make a serious stab at that next summer. … [Closer to home] I also love Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It’s just stunningly beautiful. You really feel like you’ve gotten away from society completely out there. It’s a paradise down there, and you see the world a mile above you; it’s one of my favorite places on earth. For personal achievement, climbing Mount Whitney—I’ve been there six times and gotten to the top three. It’s challenging, it’s quite beautiful and it’s also the highest point in the contiguous 48. And I’m not climbing Denali [in Alaska]; that’s out of my league, so I’ll have to settle for Whitney.

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