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Without a will, there's a wait

Reporters from near and far stake out the courthouse, hoping for word on Ted Williams' last wishes. Then they wait. And wait. And wait.

By JORGE SANCHEZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002


INVERNESS -- It wasn't quite like the O.J. Simpson trial, but the normally serene Courthouse Square became home this week to a flock of huge television news trucks from Boston and other areas.

The out-of-town reporters were waiting for a lawyer to arrive bearing the will of baseball great Ted Williams, who died July 5. Five television news trucks bearing satellites for live broadcasts ringed the Courthouse Square on Monday. They waited in vain and by week's end, only two satellite trucks remained.

The trucks received permission to park on the grass, said a spokesman at Inverness City Hall.

The out-of-town news crews came here not to do an obituary on Williams, but to see his will, searching for details of any burial requests. The Williams story took an unusual twist after reports surfaced on Sunday that John Henry Williams had his father's body frozen to preserve his DNA.

On Thursday, Dan Roche, 38, a sportscaster for WBZ-TV in Boston, sat on a bench outside the courthouse entrance. He was doing what reporters often spend their time doing -- waiting for news and working his cell phone.

"I came down here to do a nice tribute piece to Ted Williams, who I consider a baseball icon, and now I wound up with this," Roche said, referring to the media frenzy over freezing Williams' body.

Making the 1,400-mile trip from Boston to Florida is nothing new for the WBZ crew.

"This truck has been in Florida for 30 days so far this year," said Al Goebel, 38, a technician. The truck is dispatched to Fort Myers yearly to cover baseball's spring training season.

Roche said the reaction among Bostonians over freezing Williams' body was much the same as here.

"People there are outraged. This is not the way Ted Williams should be remembered," he said. "John Henry Williams (Ted Williams' son) is not a very popular person there now.

"I can't wait to see what will happen if John Henry shows up in Boston for the July 22 tribute they've planned for Ted at Fenway."

Though they had only been in Citrus for a few days, the news crews quickly learned the lay of the land. On Thursday, one engineer went for pizza at Angelo's on the Courthouse Square. The WBZ crew became Angelo's regulars.

The daily newscasts, called "standups," are made on the Courthouse Square, with the green lawn in the background.

"It's funny because right now, the weather here is not much different than the weather in Boston because we're having a heat wave.

But without a will, there was only a wait.

Defense attorney Michael Blackstone touched off a media feeding frenzy when he decided to have a little fun with the reporters. He wrote "Williams Will" in large black letters on a large manila envelope and left it on a bench outside the courthouse as he went inside.

Within moments, a cluster of eager reporters and photographers gathered around the envelope, thinking it was the document they had been waiting for all week. A few photographers even snapped pictures. But the laughter coming from the clerk's office tipped off the press, some of whom laughed at themselves.

Many of the out-of-town reporters stayed at the Best Western Citrus Hills Lodge in Hernando. Hotel manager Anna Torcuator said that about eight reporters arrived over the weekend. She said a CBS news crew was the first to arrive.

"We're next door to the Ted Williams Museum and they did a lot of reports from there, but none from here," she said.

"Actually, they were so busy that we saw them only in the morning after they had a complimentary continental breakfast. They would leave and not come back again until night. We welcomed them as much as any other members of the general public. They were no problem at all," she said.

Franci Richardson, 35, a reporter for the Boston Herald, has been in Citrus County since Tuesday morning. Asked how long she plans to stay, Richardson said, "until something gets filed."

She spent her first two days camped outside John Henry Williams' house in an attempt to speak with the baseball legend's son.

Her efforts were less than successful.

"I gave up," she said, laughing. "There are better ways to get interviews."

A staffer at the Clerk of Courts Office said Thursday that the media requests have not posed a hardship on the clerks, since the reporters are all interested in the same thing -- the will.

"The people at the clerk's office have been really great," Roche said.

Inverness council member John Sullivan, who also works as director of the courts, walked past the reporters on his lunch break Thursday.

"The reporters have become the story," Sullivan said.

-- Staff writer Carrie Johnson contributed to this report. Jorge Sanchez can be reached at 860-7313 or sanchez@sptimes.com.

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