Las Vegas Sun

November 29, 2021

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Viewers, colleagues mourn Emmy Award-winning anchor

KLAS Channel 8 employees and viewers were still reeling this morning from the news that Polly Gonzalez, the Emmy Award-winning anchor for KLAS Channel 8 Eyewitness News, was killed in a car accident on Monday.

The station's Web site has been flooded with e-mail messages of condolence and shock.

Gonzalez, 43, who had worked as an anchor for Channel 8 since 1994, was driving on Highway 127 in California's Death Valley with her two daughters, Gabriella, 5, and Sabrina, 8, when she was in a single-vehicle accident, according to the California Highway Patrol.

She died at the scene, CHP said. Her two daughters suffered minor injuries and were taken to Baker, Calif., where they were waiting to be reunited with their father.

Gonzalez, who was returning to Las Vegas after a weekend trip to see family in San Jose, Calif., was traveling northbound on Highway 127 around 3 p.m. when she apparently drifted off the road to the right, said Adam Cortinas, public affairs officer for the Barstow CHP.

Gonzalez overcorrected and her Ford Explorer rolled several times, he said. Gonzalez was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, Cortinas said.

CHP is continuing an investigation into the accident.

News of Gonzalez's death was upsetting to those who worked with her in Las Vegas and elsewhere, where she was known as a dogged anchor and advocate for Hispanic issues.

"It's clearly a shock," said Robert Stoldal, vice president of news operations for Channel 8. "She would just light up the room with her spirit, energy and passion."

Stoldal praised Gonzalez's work, especially the piece "Prayer of Vision," the news story about holistic healing by Gonzalez and then-Channel 8 photojournalist Keven Strehle that was nominated for an Emmy in 1996.

Strehle, who is currently a producer for "Northwest Backroads" on the NBC affiliate KING 5 in Seattle, remembered Gonzalez as a strong-willed and dedicated journalist who helped improve him as a photojournalist.

"She brought out the good and the bad in me, and even when it was the bad it made me re-examine the way I looked at myself," Strehle said Monday night by telephone from the Seattle area.

Gary Waddell, who worked with Gonzalez as co-anchor at Channel 8 for almost two years, was hit especially hard by the news of her passing.

"I spent half my day with her and it was a very close working relationship that was also a friendship," Waddell said.

Waddell, despite his grief, joked about Gonzalez, saying that she was quite outspoken and let people know what she was thinking -- ultimately a good thing in broadcast journalism.

"She was not quiet, she was loud. You always knew where she stood on things, and we are better for it," he said.

Waddell appeared visibly shaken when reporting on her death on the nightly news, having to break several times to regain his composure and catch his breath.

Before working for Channel 8, Gonzalez worked for KCBA-TV in Salinas, where she won an Emmy Award in 1993 for "Best Small Market Broadcast," said Howard Cordova, chief editor at the California station.

"When she came here she really wanted to make a difference," said Cordova, who was so shaken by the news of her death that he became choked up with emotion several times.

Besides winning an Emmy, Gonzalez also worked With Craig Kilborn, former host of the "Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn" and "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, Cordova said. Kilborn was a sports anchor at the time, he said.

Cordova remembered two half-hour special reports in particular by Gonzalez that impressed him. One was a documentary on Cesar Chavez, who founded the United Farm workers, and the other was about gang violence in the area.

Gonzalez also worked for several years at KXTV 10 in Sacramento, where she was only one of two bilingual reporters working for the station at the time, said Tom Marshall, a former anchor for the station who now is the spokesman for the CHP in Sacramento.

"She was everything you would want in a reporter," Marshall said.

Gonzalez was also a well-known role model to people living in the Las Vegas Valley, especially among the Hispanic community, according to community members.

Tony Alamo, senior vice president for Mandalay Resort Group, said Gonzalez was "one of the first ones (in the local media) with a name like Gonzalez ... she was a role model."

Tony Sanchez, immediate past president of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, said Gonzalez was "by far the most active member of the fourth estate in terms of coverage" of the chamber, which showed how much she cared about the community.

Gonzalez was also "one of the rare ones (Hispanics) to make a crossover into mainstream media," Sanchez said.

Elaine Sanchez, the spokeswoman for McCarran International Airport, worked with Gonzalez on the Latin Chamber of Commerce and again on a group that encouraged Hispanic women in entrepreneurship. She said Gonzalez's outreach work to the Hispanic community on the issues of health care for women and children and various scholarships was indispensable for the chamber.

Sanchez also considered Gonzalez a role model. In 1994 or 1995, Sanchez, who was working her first job at a local advertising agency, saw Gonzalez on television and decided to call her to meet the anchor.

Sanchez said she was surprised by how open and supportive Gonzalez was when they met at the television station, especially considering they had never met before. Their meeting eventually evolved into a professional relationship and a friendship.

"She was a role model and for Hispanic women especially she was inspiring," Sanchez said. "She will be missed."