Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009 | 4:24 p.m.
Maybe, if Ron Futrell had blown a .10 on the night of July 25, he might still be employed on local TV. Or maybe not. But today Futrell said he has “way more than a passing interest” in his longtime friend and onetime KTNV Channel 13 colleague Rikki Cheese’s arrest by a Lake Mead National Recreation Area park ranger on Saturday afternoon.
Cheese, who for years has been a famous face among broadcast journalists in Las Vegas (Whoopi Goldberg helped make her famous by repeatedly cracking up at her name in a promo spot a few years ago) was cited for blowing higher than a .08, the legal blood-alcohol level for driving under the influence. A story of the account was posted yesterday on the Channel 13 Web site, where Cheese’s photo remains but her thumbnail bio is missing.
The weekend incident has not cost Cheese her job, though. Just now, Channel 13 General Manager Jim Prather returned a call to say, “Rikki Cheese continues to work as a reporter for KTNV. No further comment.”
This is not what they refer to in the broadcast world as, “happy talk,” but at least Cheese (who did not return an e-mail, from me, for response) is still employed. Futrell was not so lucky after his own automotive episode back in July. The incident that spun out Futrell’s career was, to drop a contemporary film reference, fast and furious. On July 25, he was arrested following an accident on Interstate 15 and Charleston Boulevard in which he “swapped paint” with another vehicle and temporarily lost control of his car. He was originally charged with making an unsafe lane change, hit and run from a property-damage crash, failure to stop and render aid, failure to immediately report an accident to police and obstructing a police officer.
Crucial to that sentence are the words “charged with,” and though Futrell faced all of those menacing-sounding charges, all of those charges were dropped on Dec. 18. He wasn’t even issued a traffic ticket. But what happened in between July 25 and December 18 was, Futrell was let go by Channel 13 after 25 years as a sports reporter and news anchor for conduct unbecoming the station, or some similarly haughty explanation. (Futrell details the incident in our interview on “Our Metropolis,” which aired Jan. 20.)
“They’re arbiters of everything fair and good in the community, and they ran me after 25 after a traffic accident that might not have been my fault,” Futrell said, chuckling his way through the “arbiters of everything good and fair” part.
But Cheese, he says, deserves to stick with KTNV.
“She is a great friend and a great reporter and it’s the right thing to do,” Futrell said (oddly enough, our phone conversation took place after Futrell had just left a Crime Stoppers meeting, an organization he has served for five years). “We’ll be linked because we were anchors together. I will emphasize I am not passing judgment on Rikki. … I just hope (KTNV) sort of learned their lesson with me, quite frankly.”
Today Futrell is the editor of a new Web site, LocalsLoveVegas.com, drawing on all the skills he developed over the years at Channel 13 to focus on issues and events people who live in Vegas might find interesting or useful. “I heard it’s in the top 1 million of all Web sites, which to me is great,” said Futrell, clearly proud that he’s still able to reach an audience.