I'm sorry, readers, it took so long to identify for you the driver of that runaway tractor-trailer rig on Monday. There's still a lot we don't know, including what triggered the chase by law enforcement in the first place. For Pete's sake, we can't even definitively dispel the rumors about caged tigers in the trailer.

Law enforcement officials went mum after the incident that ended the life of trucker Glen Ray Cockrum in a barrage of bullets. This clamming up happens a lot, and not just in Nogales. D. Brian Burghart, who runs the non-profit Fatal Encounters that tracks police-involved deaths, told NI reporter Lidia Terrazas that it’s “a new police protocol” to withhold information that should be made public.

It was the same story last Christmas when a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a trucker in Rio Rico. It took 11 days for the Sheriff’s Office to publicly identify the driver, but even then the department declined to give additional information about him or the incident.

For the NI, it becomes like following a game of hot potato as the various law enforcement agencies pass the public information buck back and forth as we try to fill in the blanks for our readers. Agencies need to come up with a plan to immediately get basic information out to the public that won’t compromise their investigations. Releasing the name of the driver after next-of-kin were notified and saying whether tigers were in the trailer would not have hurt the investigation.

“Some agencies have chosen to be more open with the data, which I can tell you has diminished community anger about certain killings and diminishes anger toward police in general,” Burghart said.

That would be a good thing, right?

Citizens were alarmed on Monday and I can relate. I have a brother-in-law who drives long-haul who came to mind in the early stages. And when I saw that white tractor, I thought of my friend Tommy who also drives a white semi. I even texted him to ask if he was OK. As Burghart put it: “Fear fills the vacuum created by secrecy and ignorance about the facts of a police-related killing.”

When he was about 4 years old, my youngest son would come up with exciting backstories about how the “fighterfighters” and policemen were out saving the day whenever he heard sirens. Similarly on Monday, many people were left to come up with their own fantabulous stories and the rumor mill began furiously grinding.

To his credit, Nogales Police Chief Roy Bermudez was quick to get the word out to local media when the incident started. Soon after it was over, he told news sources that it was an isolated case and that residents were now safe. He added: “This doesn’t happen in Nogales.”

But it did happen and the news – as skewed as it may have been – travelled fast in this town. After all, Interstate 19 exits to Nogales were blocked, traffic backed up, patrol vehicles of all sorts were zipping around here and there, cops swarmed and then shots were fired at Walmart, only the busiest retail store in Santa Cruz County.

Video footage of almost every stage of the chase went viral, including the final moments just south of the UniSource Valencia Plant where the truck came to rest.

At one point, Sheriff David Hathaway advised the NI that the suspect had died. But then rumors surfaced that medical crews detected some vital signs on the man and that he may have still been alive. Our deadline for Tuesday’s paper loomed and we needed to get confirmation, which we were only able to obtain from people speaking on condition of anonymity who confirmed his death.

This is not how good public relations is done. We deserve better.

(Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International. He can be reached at publisher@nogalesinternational.com.)

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