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Charlevoix County News Reporter Charged With “Photographing Body In Grave”


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I just wondered if maybe they were after this guy because of his connection to a dispensary?






Charlevoix County News reporter charged with “photographing body in grave”




Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014 10:16 am | Updated: 5:10 pm, Thu Feb 6, 2014.

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BOYNE CITY — Video from a fatal airplane crash in Boyne City is causing a local Charlevoix County News staffer some turbulence of his own.

Michigan State Police arrested Damien Leist, 38, of Boyne City, at his home Jan. 29 for “photographing dead body in a grave,” a felony in Michigan with a maximum two years in prison and possible $5,000 fine.

The advertising sales representative from the Charlevoix County News, owned by Choice Publications based in Gaylord, is being charged for misleading law enforcement to capture video images of a Jan. 6 airplane crash near Addis Road in Boyne City, where two Southeastern Michigan men died earlier in the morning.

In a pixelated video captured and posted to Leist’s personal YouTube.com feed, he can be seen standing next to wreckage.

“As you can see, the crash site is pretty dismal,” Leist says, after identifying himself as reporting for Choice Publications. An unidentified cameraman can also be heard later narrating “it’s in pieces and still stinks like fuel.”

But, the facts are disputed from there.

The charges in the arresting affidavit allege Leist and the second man asked two Charlevoix County deputies for permission to go to the crash scene and were denied because remains were still at the location.

But, when the two deputies left at about noon for an hour to refuel vehicles, the two men allegedly lied to two new reserve deputies and told them the county undersheriff had previously given them permission.

“Undersheriff (Chuck) Vondra advises that he gave no such thing,” the affidavit states.

The Charlevoix County News staffer has a different version.

Leist says he woke up “late to the game” the morning of the plane crash and called fellow Charlevoix County News reporter Jeff Bossory to the crash site.

Earlier in the morning, several media outlets, including the News-Review, had reporters at the crash site, where deputies escorted — by snowmobile — members of the media to a location where photographs and video were taken at distance.

“I get up there at about 11 o’clock and the party is over,” said Leist, who posted a $5,000 surety bond for his release.

“So, I ask Chuck Vondra if we can go up and take some pictures and he says: ‘No problem at all.’”

Leist says he then went into town with Bossory to “process” what they had for a story. Then about noon, he said, they returned to the crash site.

“The police let us in and we took pictures,” Leist said.

Leist said the deputies let them walk up a plowed trail to the downed airplane.

“There was not yellow tape. There was no crash investigation going on anymore,” he said. “... If the cops would have told us that nobody is going up there, we would have gone home.”

Dave Baragray, owner of Choice Publications, said he did not immediately plan to retain a lawyer for the reporter and did not have enough information about the charge to comment about the situation.

Leist is set to be arraigned Tuesday, Feb. 11, and faces a second count for being a habitual felon for being guilty of manufacturing/distributing marijuana in 2011. The habitual offender count could make the maximum two-year charge multiplied by an additional year in prison.

Leist acknowledges the previous charge and says it relates to a medical marijuana dispensary he was previously involved in trying to operate.

Bossory, the camera man, has not been charged.

Rare charge

The prohibition of photographing a body in a grave is an obscure 1997 law enacted after a film crew captured images from wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a 1975 wreck where bodies remained entombed.

In response to the outcry from the families, then Northern Michigan lawmakers Sen. Walter North, R-St. Ignace and Rep. Pat Gagliardi, D-Drummond Island, sponsored the law to prevent a person from “knowingly photographing or publicly displaying a photograph of all or a portion of a decedent located in a human grave” without approval from the next of kin.

“It’s pretty clear that we’re talking about disasters that happened in the Great Lakes, in Michigan waters, and the use of film without the family’s consent for commercial value,” Gagliardi told the Associated Press at the time of the bills passage, which is quoted in the same year by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

But, while the law does express special concern for Great Lakes waters, it also covers more general disasters and accidental grave sites such as a mine where “all or a portion of a decedent is located.”

Charlevoix County Prosecutor Allen Telgenof said he brought the charge because “there were still remains at the scene.”

Charlevoix County Sheriff Don Schneider said on camera at about 10 a.m. after the crash the bodies would be removed to Grand Rapids for an autopsy. When that happened is not immediately clear, but the law includes provisions for all remains to be defined as a body.

Telgenof acknowledged the law was new to him, but that the charges were merited given the circumstances.


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