POR: David Jones March 08, 2009

There are four kinds of calamities that could spring a barefoot David Jones from the comfy seat on his couch and out of his flannel pajamas at about 10 p.m. on a recent nippy winter night: a fire, a fatal, a plane crash or a rollover. 

But if any one of those things happened, you can bet Jones — also affectionately known among emergency workers as Disaster Dave, Digital Dave or Coparazzi — might be the first to capture the chaos on camera.

The photographer on contract with KKCO-TV and a freelance photographer with other regional and national media takes pride in shooting the news as it unfolds.

His quick reflexes are no accident. For starters, Jones, 50, backs his vehicle into the driveway of his centrally located Grand Junction home so he can squeal away at a moment’s notice.

Four police scanners occupy his home and car and never stray far from his ear. One even accompanies him into the bathroom when he showers. When a call comes in, Jones, who said he rarely needs a map anymore to get around, chooses routes with the most right-hand turns and the fewest stoplights to trim driving time.

Jones lately spends much of the night on the living room couch with a scanner hovering close to his right ear, after his wife, Becky, kicked him out of the bed where he would sleep with headphones tethered to a scanner.

“He’s had a scanner for as long as I can remember,” said Becky, his wife of 18 years. “He can be sound asleep and I’ll be sitting here watching TV and he comes running out. At first it was annoying, I’m so used to it now. It’s like a part of our lives.”

But Jones’ ability to arrive quickly on the scene is more than a point of pride. It’s job security and a means for the family to help pay the bills.

A few years ago the Joneses relied on Becky’s salary as David barely scraped by getting paid $25 per photo that ran in this newspaper. Since then his work has appeared in the Rocky Mountain News and every once in a while when a celebrity wanders into town, the New York Post or CNN comes calling.

Jones has sold pictures of the disgraced Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu, and a tragic plane crash that killed television executive Dick Ebersol’s son in Montrose in 2004.

Jones also sells footage of some of Grand Junction’s stupid criminal tricks to cop drama shows. A California production company may air his footage of a hit-and-run suspect who fled police and was eventually pulled naked and screaming from the Colorado River in Orchard Mesa last summer.

“If there was a major event here, I was probably at it,” Jones said. “I just have a nose for news. I can sense 90 percent of the time what is going to be a good story.”

He has always gravitated toward breaking news, said Becky, queuing up her favorite story of her husband. Once as a teenager, Jones was sent out by his mother to retrieve milk from the store.

However, he returned hours later and had forgotten about the groceries after coming upon an accident scene. To this day, the couple drives separate vehicles to church, after one too many incidents pulled them away from worship.

He uses an ear bud to listen for developing news while attending Mass.

“He’s too curious for his own good,” Becky chided.

Jones got his start years ago in Denver calling in accident reports while making rounds selling and servicing fire extinguishers. The couple then moved to Washington state, Idaho and finally to Grand Junction, so they and their son, Caleb, 6, could be near family.

A self-taught photographer, Jones devours technical literature on the subject. Sometimes he shoots merely to practice in different lighting or shoots backup footage that he’ll use later. And, Becky can always tell when he’s learning new equipment.

“I rarely see him when he gets a new camera,” she said. “He’ll go out at night and in the morning. He always used to say that would make a really good picture. Now he can prove it.”

While Jones works in the visual realm, he said words can fill in where the photos leave off. To truly be informed he thinks people need both written and visual media.

“People watching TV should read the newspaper,” he said. “People reading the newspaper should watch TV to get the movement of what’s going on.”

Photos around the couple’s home show the world through Jones’ eyes. A screensaver on his computer displays a night shot of lightning cracking above a statue of a pioneer in Eagle Rim Park.

The photo, and others, are featured in this year’s city of Grand Junction calendar. A canvas rolled up in the closet paints an idyllic scene out of a rusted can of Spam among grass and a log, something that Jones noticed in a quiet moment off the side of a road during an crash scene.

Video on his computer shows a building at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church violently succumbing to flames. Becky’s favorite is the one of their then 3-month-old son, sleeping soundly bathed in a glow of soft, white light.

“He got this shot that was like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” she said.

One of his more difficult assignments was to film the aftermath of double fatal drunken-driving crash on Interstate 70 that claimed the lives of two college students. Other times he tries to remain inconspicuous at a crime scene to avoid detection by possible victims.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time I’ll shoot everything. That’s what’s nice about pictures. You can always easily edit it out,” he said. “That’s one thing we get to do that the cops don’t —  shoot first, ask questions later.”

After his interview recently, it turns out Jones was roused from his couch to answer a call after this reporter left. At about 10:30 p.m. a call came in on a semi-truck versus a car rollover near the Mesa County and Delta County line on U.S. Highway 50. One person was ejected.

Though the roads turned slick, Jones barrelled out of town to investigate. He was the first and only media at scene.

“The people were OK,” he reported later. “Sometimes time is crucial to get that important shot.”


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