It has been widely reported that, on February 7, 1981, Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Ray Clark was shot to death at his home.
But for WTAP, that wasn't the only sudden...and tragic...loss that weekend.
It wasn't until Sunday morning, February 8, that we were able to confirm that Deputy Clark had died. Later that day, I, accompanied by a couple of station engineers, shot some video at Clark's home, just outside Marietta, where the shooting took place the night before. As I was later told, Chief Engineer Charlie Helmick discussed the shooting with Nancy Hickel, a reporter hired at the time I was just a few months earlier, about the shooting.
That apparently was the last time anyone, from the station or otherwise, had any contact with Hickel.
I knew Nancy from her radio work, first with WXIL, then with WKYG/WQAW. She was what one would describe "a real go-getter". She didn't have an agenda against anyone that I knew of, but she had knowledge of both people and investigations. There had been one involving the city administration at that time. After Nancy and I were both hired, it was more or less determined that she would be the "Parkersburg/West Virginia" reporter and I would be the "Marietta/Ohio" reporter (due to my previous experience covering news on the Ohio side of the river for WBRJ radio). By November of 1980, Nancy was also co-anchoring the weekday 6PM news with Jack Kane and a Sunday night broadcast.
Nancy did not show up for the Sunday 11PM news, and, by Monday morning, people were becoming concerned. While I was on the phone with Jack, discussing the Clark story, then-WTAP General Manager Sherman Grimm walked into the newsroom and interrupted our conversation. "Nancy's dead", he told me, and I quickly relayed the news to Jack.
There was speculation as to what had happened, but the ruling was that Nancy had died of natural causes. I understand her family had a history of heart problems, something I can relate to in my own family. Her funeral was held Thursday, February 12, with nearly everyone from WTAP not directly involved in the station's operation on hand.
There is often discussion about the on-air employee turnover at the station. I don't know if Nancy would have been here as long as I have (she was my age-24-when she died), but, given her life-long Parkersburg residency and her knowledge of local news, it would not have been a surprise to me if she might still be here today, had she lived. In September, 1981, after Jack left for Charleston, Roger Sheppard (who now, of course, is our general manager) came on staff as well. For a long time afterward, I wondered about the "dream team" the three of us might have been.
Nancy's death was a three-way loss: to her family, of course, to WTAP, and to Parkersburg.