From: The Virginian-Pilot, 2.9.16
By: Joanne Kimberlin
When a man died in front of The Virginian-Pilot this week, journalists peered out their windows, wondering who that was under the paramedics’ white sheet.
Police weren’t saying at the time. The only things visible: leather boat shoes, black socks, tan pants.
For more than three hours, the sheet stayed put on the pavement – a stark reminder of how suddenly life can end.
It could have been anyone.
Turned out, it was one of us.
Glenn Allen Scott worked for the newspaper for 45 years, retiring in 2001. As an associate editorial page editor, he was known for influential, passionate writing that left a permanent stamp on our community.
Police say Scott, 83, appeared to die of natural causes, but it’s not often such things happen in public.
He died around 2:30 p.m. Monday on a sidewalk, surrounded by office buildings, the federal courthouse, the newspaper and whooshing traffic. A passer-by spotted him on the ground and tried to perform CPR. A knot of onlookers milled on the grass – cold, wind-blown, unsure of what to do.
Police arrived, followed by paramedics, who deployed the telltale sheet. Detectives roped off the scene with yellow tape, used their cars and a low, black screen to block the view, then waited in their vehicles with heaters blowing.
It would be dark before the body was moved – which made Scott’s death as much news story as obituary.
“My dad was an open book,” said Mary Carter Scott, one of his daughters, who lives in Norfolk. “He’d be absolutely OK with people knowing what happened.”
To quote her father: Journalism is at its best when it provides information that helps people in “practical ways.”
Apparently, when we die in public – even of natural causes – we can lie where we fell for hours while things are sorted out.
“That was a surprise to me,” Scott’s daughter said.
It takes time to handle things properly, said Officer Daniel Hudson, a spokesman for the Norfolk Police Department.
“I know it seems insensitive,” Hudson said. “People are looking and wondering, ‘Why are they just leaving him on the ground like that?’ ”
Police are called to every unattended death – those that occur outside medical facilities or without a doctor present – to check for any hint of foul play.
“We process the scene,” Hudson said. “We need to be able to reassure the family that we’ve done everything we can to investigate.”
Cases like Scott’s – he was alone, in public – take even longer to sort out. Detectives had to search his pockets for an ID, go to his home, get inside, find phone numbers for kin or doctors.
“When someone has clearly passed, there’s no point in taking them to the hospital,” Hudson said.
Police are also reluctant to transport natural deaths to the city morgue – a place that’s chronically swamped with cases that do look suspicious.
So they wait until a relative can be notified. Then it’s up to the family to call a funeral home to fetch their loved one – a practice Hudson called standard among local police departments.