WIS 60th: Reporter Jack Kuenzie looks back on 30 years with WIS - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

WIS 60th: Reporter Jack Kuenzie looks back on 30 years with WIS

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It wasn't in Jack Kuenzie's original plan to stay in one place for three decades. But as he soon found out, South Carolina is a target-rich environment for news reporters.

"When you're having fun, it's hard to leave the party," he says. So on WIS' 60th anniversary, Jack reflected on the top stories he covered.

He thought back to one of the first. Less than three weeks after starting work in Columbia in July 1984, he found himself gazing at the leader of the free world, President Ronald Reagan, who was holding a meeting on Caribbean issues at USC.

"And things just continued to stay interesting from that point forward," says Kuenzie.

"For one reason or another my time at WIS has included first hand coverage of two of the more significant space-related events of the last few decades," he says.

 In January 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

"A shocking development that my photographer and I witnessed by chance as we were working on an entirely unrelated story in the Orlando area," Kuenzie says.

"We saw the shuttle blow up while preparing to interview an FBI agent who had been handling the arrest of former Columbia Police Chief Arthur Hess, who had turned up at the Epcot Center in Florida after faking his own death and vanishing from the Midlands."

A few years later in 1990, WIS sent Kuenzie back to the Space Center to cover the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. South Carolina's Charles Bolden piloted the shuttle giving us a Palmetto State connection.

"It was right around that time that something began percolating here in Columbia that would shake the foundations of state government," says Kuenzie. "An undercover federal sting operation to be known as Operation Lost Trust. As more than two dozen state lawmakers and lobbyists became embroiled in that investigation, the bottom line became clear: South Carolina government had been for sale with lawmakers giving up their vote on a non-existent parimutuel betting bill in some cases for nothing more than a fistful of cash or even a new suit."

"In 1994 some of my colleagues and I were at a party on a Saturday afternoon when we heard about a plane crash in Charlotte," says Kuenzie. "A couple of hours later, that's where we found ourselves. Close to the wreckage of US Air Flight 1016. The plane had 52 on board. 37 lost their lives. WIS followed the investigation of the case all the way to an NTSB hearing in Washington DC."

 For much of Jack's time here at WIS, he was on the criminal justice beat.

 "After a trip to survey conditions on Death Row, which at the time was in Columbia, I began getting phone calls from the state's most notorious serial killer, Donald Pee Wee Gaskins," says Jack. "His story and eventual execution was one of several stories that always seemed to grab viewers' attention."

The crime beat would eventually include personal encounters with another even better-known figure who'd run afoul of the law. The hardest working man in show business, James Brown, who went from a drop-in at the state education department one year to a prison cell in Columbia a while later.

But Jack says there's more stories to mention:

"Susan Smith, Larry Gene Bell, The Pope, the raising of the Hunley, the lowering of the Confederate flag."

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