You already know the story. Two weeks ago, a small plane crashed into power lines at Orlando's Dubsdread Golf Course, and a heroic passerby rushed to pull its two passengers from the wreckage. One of the men in the plane died, the other survived.
What you probably don't know is that the heroic passerby, Brandon "Bosco" Cashen, is my fiance a happenstance that afforded me, a member of the press, an up-close and personal look at how it feels to be on the other side of a media firestorm. Long story short, it isn't pretty. But we'll get to that.
Bosco (we're on a first-name basis) isn't a shy man. But he despises the limelight. In fact, when I wanted to write this story, focusing less on him and more on the media, he wasn't thrilled with the idea. But after what we've both been through, he saw my point.
There's an old saw in journalism that goes like this: News is like a hot dog; if you knew how either was made, you wouldn't want to consume them anymore. Now I know why.
Bosco called me from a borrowed cell phone right after he pulled the men out of the wreckage. He'd dropped his phone inside the plane. I rushed to Dubsdread to meet him. "Bosco!" I screamed. He didn't hear me. "Bosco!" I yelled again from behind a long strand of yellow police tape.
Making my way toward him, I immediately noticed members of the media swarming the remains of the Cessna. After weaving through a throng of TV reporters, I finally reached Bosco and hugged him.
"Let's get out of here, I want to go home," he said somberly.
Before we could make it to his car, we heard a woman shouting Bosco's name. A blond woman holding a Channel 6 microphone, trailed by a cameraman, ran up to us.
"Bosco, can you tell us what happened?" she asked eagerly.
"Uh, no thanks. I don't really want to talk," he said, walking away slowly.
"Please, Bosco, this is really important. You did a good thing. We want to hear what you have to say. Can you tell us anything at all about what you saw? Please. Please," she persisted.
"Sorry. I just don't feel like talking right now."
A look of disappointment washed over her face. Bosco turned his back to her, leaned closer to me and whispered, "I just pulled two men from a plane crash. I'm not in the mood for this."
Before dawn the next morning, we went online for more information about the crash. On the Orlando Sentinel home page was a photo of the crash showing three men reaching to grab a victim's body. Bosco's arm was barely visible outside the plane door, holding the body.
"Fatal plane crash sparks heroic acts," he read aloud. "Wait a minute, what the hell?"
The article was almost entirely about Bosco, complete with quotes that made it sound like he'd been directly interviewed by the Sentinel reporter, when he hadn't knowingly talked to any reporters.
"I thought you didn't talk to any reporters?" I asked.
"I didn't! I spoke to a police officer and there were a few officials around. I didn't realize there was a Sentinel guy there. It all happened so fast. Could they have just got this from the police report?"
Twenty minutes later the phone was ringing nonstop. We didn't pick up. Bosco was afraid the story made him seem as though he was "out for glory." I gave him a playful smack on the back of his head and told him not to worry. "This will all be over in, well, '15 minutes,' as they say."
He stared at the screen. "But I didn't ask for this."
I sneaked into work 20 minutes early to e-mail a quick thank-you letter to Sentinel reporter Mark Schlueb the man who wrote the front-page story. Schlueb responded in less than five minutes. He told me Inside Edition was trying to track down Bosco. I knew Bosco didn't want reporters digging around for his information, so I gave Schlueb my number.
By the time I got out of an hour-long meeting, I had nine phone calls, five from a New York area code. My cell phone rang again. It was Bosco telling me a CNN producer from Anderson Cooper 360° called his mother, requesting an interview with him for the 7 p.m. show.
Reporter Kathi Belich, with WFTV Channel 9 News, had also tracked down Bosco's mom and was standing on her doorstep begging for an interview.
"This is getting so out of hand," he said, a little frustrated. "How long is this going to last?"
After thinking about it, I told him to cooperate with the media. If they didn't talk to him, they'd talk to someone else about him, and who knows what people would say to get on the news?
Bosco said he had another call. It was his old roommate. Reporters were on her door-step, too.
"I'll talk to them," he said, sighing. "But this is such an invasion."
CHUM IN THE WATER
By 2:15 p.m. that day we were pulling into the WKMG-TV Channel 6 news station off John Young Parkway for an interview with Inside Edition. Producer Carl Bevelhymer had been calling all morning from New York, trying desperately to get us to the studio by 2:30 p.m.
We signed in and were ushered to the set. A man grabbed Bosco by the arm and slapped a microphone on him.
"Just look into the camera when you talk," he said. In less than five minutes, Bosco was recounting the previous day's tragedy to a man in a New York newsroom.
Two minutes into the broadcast, I noticed Channel 6 reporter Erik von Ancken entering the room. He stopped next to me and put his hands on his hips.
"Do you know this guy?" he asked, pointing to Bosco.
"Yes, I'm his fiance," I whispered.
"So this is yesterday's mystery guy, right?" he asked with wide eyes.
"Uh, I guess so. He pulled the men from the plane, if that's what you mean."
Von Ancken's face lit up. "That's great," he said excitedly. He took a few steps closer to the set where Bosco was sitting and waited behind the cameras. I knew he was going to pounce as soon as he removed his earpiece.
Sure enough, von Ancken approached Bosco. "You did a great thing yesterday," he said. "People are calling you a hero. Do you think, since we already have you here, you could answer a few questions for us, too?"
A few minutes later, Bosco was in front of a huge screen showing footage of the plane crash. "Did you ever fear for your own life?" asked von Ancken.
As we were about to exit the building, von Ancken ran up behind us. "If you guys haven't done any other interviews, would you mind not talking to any other reporters, like Channel 9, until after 5 p.m.? We want to get the exclusive with this, and they are our direct competition."
"It's a business, babe," I said to Bosco as we walked to the car. "Don't let it get to you."
I had a voice message on my phone. "Hey Leigh, it's Carl from Inside Edition. So that was great. It turned out to be a cute little news story. Call me back, I want to send Bosco a check, and I need to make sure I have the right contact information for him. Thanks."
Bosco was shocked that Inside Edition was sending him money.
"I told them I didn't want any money," he said. "I guess I don't have a say in anything, do I?"
"I guess not," I shrugged.
In the next half hour CNN, Channel 9 and Orlando Sentinel reporters all wanted interviews. Belich, the Channel 9 reporter, was still at Bosco's mom's house, trying to get her son to give Belich an interview. I took Belich's phone number and told his mom we would try to call later.
Back at home Bosco secluded himself in the bedroom. At around 3:45 p.m., he emerged, saying he was overwhelmed and needed help calling reporters back. I started by phoning Lisa Roberts from the Sentinel, who had called minutes before. Roberts was writing a story about heroism and wanted to interview Bosco. She was very warm and friendly. I told her I'd call her back with an answer.
Next I called Belich who, initially, was less friendly. "I was expecting Bosco's phone call at 3 o'clock," she said dryly. "We're going live at 5, so now we don't have time to do the interview."
I apologized, explaining that Bosco had been running around all day.
"It's a little bit of an inconvenience for me that I'm getting your phone call this late," she replied. "His mom told me he would be calling earlier …."
At that point I got angry, but managed to calm down. "Well, as you can imagine, Bosco has been through a lot these past two days," I said. "He had to do an interview with Inside Edition and Channel 6 earlier, this is all completely foreign to him …."
She interrupted. "So he has done an interview with Channel 6?"
"Yeah, they grabbed us on the way out of our interview with Inside Edition," I said.
"Oh, I see. I wasn't aware that he had done those other interviews," she said, disappointment in her voice.
Somehow I was beginning to feel guilty. "If you still want to interview him, he has a 7 p.m. interview with Anderson Cooper, so it would have to be before that."
Belich agreed, and I gave her our home address. By the time she and a cameraman arrived, she was all smiles. Bosco was getting the hang of things, probably because he was answering the same questions for the third time in four hours.
Next it was off to do the Anderson Cooper show. When we arrived at the Newslink building off Vineland Road, we were enthusiastically greeted by a cameraman who ushered me into the green room and swept Bosco off to a set decorated with fake plants and library books. Bosco looked more terrified than ever.
When the segment was finished, the cameraman disappeared, along with his enthusiasm. No one even showed us to the door.
Since Bosco's brush with fame he's been contacted two times by a citizen, and by the director of the local chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. Both men wanted to present him with awards for bravery. We've also received a few more phone calls from von Ancken at Channel 6 hoping to get the exclusive "reunion" footage of Bosco and the surviving crash victim.
"Sure, they can come," Bosco said sarcastically. "As long as they don't bring any cameras. I'm not going to drag this guy into my circus."
But it was the last message, on Jan. 16, that officially ended his relationship with the media. Bosco had disgust in his voice when he told me about it.
"OK, you're not going to believe this one," he said. "Some guy from Channel 6 called, I couldn't hear if it was von Ancken or someone else. They left a message asking if they could meet me and my family at my church to film me praying. They said they wanted to do another story, and were curious to know if I thought God was guiding me during the accident."
I started laughing.
"They created this story out of thin air," he said. "Before they figured out whether or not I even go to church! Can you believe that?"
I believe it.