E-mail Rick!

Oct. 15, 2004 2:26 pm

When I first heard about the streaker sentenced to jail, I knew it was a great TV story.  I mean, a minimum SIX MONTHS behind bars for streaking a high school graduation?  When the kid doing it was a member of the high school class?  It just seemed harsh, and everyone I talked to about the crime and the punishment had the same reaction.

I got the go-ahead to pursue the story, but getting the interview with the convicted "exposer" and video of the event proved a bit more challenging.

The steaker, Russell Chmieleski, and his father Mitchell were both ready and willing to go on camera, and Russell told me he could get a copy of a video of his run across the Tawanda High School football field.

Russell now lives in Philadelphia, a solid two-hour drive from New York City. His father and the streak site were in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, roughly three-and-a-half hours from Philly, and another three-and-a-half hours from New York.

I got a call back from the guy who shot the video, on which he'd blurred out Russell below the waist and added a soundtrack, Ray Steven's cult song "The Streak." The man told me he'd changed his mind, and wouldn't give us a copy of the video after all. Producer Kendall Hagan spoke to Russell and told me not to worry, because he could line us up with the parent of another student who also shot the ceremony and would be happy to give us the tape.

Kendall and photographer Mayer Dubinsky left FOX headquarters early Wednesday morning, drove to Philadelphia, interviewed Russell, shot tape of him playing a videogame with his brother, then hit the road to northern Pennsylvania. Four hours later, they were in Bradford County, but things got tougher from there. The father couldn't be found. The woman who had the video of the event wasn't answering her phone. The prosecutor wouldn't go on camera, and the judge wouldn't either. In fact, while almost every single person in town said they thought Russell was getting railroaded, no one was willing to say it on the record.

Kendall shot pictures of the courthouse, the police station, the main street, the school, and the football stadium. She talked to lots of folks off camera, and made lots of phone calls. Eventually, she tracked down the mom who had home video of Russell's run for glory, and by 6:30 p.m. that evening had a VHS copy in hand. She got a county commissioner to go on camera before getting back in the car and driving back home, arriving around 10:30 p.m. that night.

The next morning, we found out the story was pushed back a day, which meant we had plenty of time to view and log the tapes and write my story, which is fortunate, because it took more than TWO HOURS to blur out the video of Russell's rear-end. Even though the shot of his backside only lasted about two seconds, the editor had to go frame-by-frame, since the kid was moving across the screen so quickly.

As expected, the story is getting lots of attention, with live shots almost every single hour. The only question is, will our now-famous exhibitionist get a break from the judge, or will he have to strip again to get searched on his way into the county jail...

[Click the video tab in the upper right to watch Leventhal's Streaker report.]