When the circus is in town | VailDaily.com

When the circus is in town

David L'Heureux
Kobe Vail Daily/ Melinda Kruse Kobe Bryant and his attorney Pamela Mackey enter the Eagle County Courthouse Thursday for Bryant's preliminary hearing.

A little more than a year ago, the town of Eagle was turned upside down. That’s when the news first hit that Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant would be charged with sexual assault in Eagle County.In the days since, Eagle has stood in the glare of the national media spotlight, with news agencies from all over the country, and world, descending on this small town. Consequently, Eagle – especially the area around the courthouse – undergoes a massive transformation every time Bryant is scheduled to make an appearance.When Bryant is here, the hotels fill up, the restaurants are busier, gas stations see a slew of Suburbans and other SUVs bearing various media logos hitting the pumps, and this quiet town goes into a temporary state of uproar. If you live here, you know all that. What you might not know is just what all of these media personnel do while visiting Eagle County. Where do they stay, where do they eat and what do they like to do? What do they think of Eagle? Have they had a chance to really experience all this town has to offer or is Eagle just another boring truck stop along the national-media highway? Worse places to goTravel is a reality for anyone who works as part of the media. So, what do those involved with the Kobe Bryant case think about these sporadically planned trips to Eagle County?

Chris Bell, a freelance photographer working for ABC News, has been coming up from the very beginning of these proceedings. He says he can’t think of a better place to come and work.”I love it up here, the people are great,” said Bell, who lives in Denver year-round. “It’s good consistent work on a story that I don’t have to travel too far for.”Bell says he stays at the Americinn Lodge and Suites and enjoys eating at Mi Pueblo and the Grand Avenue Grille. He doesn’t get much time to spend on recreational activities, but says, “I live close enough that I’ll be back.”ESPN reporter George Smith has made the trek to Eagle from his home base in Chicago “about 20 times.” He echoes Bells’ statements about his frequent pilgrimages to Eagle.”The travel can be a little tiring,” said Smith, who passes time in the ESPN R.V. by playing Scrabble with legal analyst, Roger Cossack. “But it is a beautiful area, the people are friendly, it is very relaxing and there are a ton of great restaurants. There are worse places we get sent.”Smith usually stays up in Vail at the Marriott, and can be found running on the recreation path there, or dining at his favorite valley eatery, Juniper, in Edwards.He didn’t have time to ski last winter, which, he says, is admittedly, “lame,” but promises to be back to make amends for that next winter, even if the trial is over.ESPN’s Smith – Part 2

The other ESPN reporter assigned to the Kobe trial, Shelley Smith (no relation to George) is a Colorado native who now lives in southern California. She has been coming to Eagle County for pleasure her whole life. The events of the last year mark the first time she has returned in her official capacity.”Coming home to work has been strange, to be sure,” said Smith, whose parents bought a home in Vail when she was younger. “But it has reignited my love affair with the area. I’ve played golf – my dad works at the Vail golf course- hiked all over Vail Mountain and hope to go rafting in July. I’m also planning on buying a mountain bike.”Since her parents live here, she has been able to save a bundle on the expense reports by bunking with them. Moving back in with mom and dad at this point has been “fun, but trying, at times.””It’s nice to come back to a home cooked meal each night,” said Smith.When not eating mom’s home cooking, the Smith family goes out to eat at Vail restaurants like Bart and Yeti’s, La Tour, Billy’s Island Grill and Up the Creek.Freelance heavenGreat work opportunities are what drew Carl Hernandez of Denver to Eagle when news of the Kobe affair first surfaced. Hernandez, who is doing freelance photography for NBC News, said he can’t believe what a great place Eagle is, nor can he believe the amount of work he has picked up since coming here.”The people here have been absolutely awesome,” said Hernandez. “I have driven by here many times over the years and never stopped. Coming up here for this has really opened my eyes to what a great place Eagle is.”

Hernandez said that his time is limited but he has been able to drive up Brush Creek Road to enjoy the sights at Sylvan Lake State Park. Also, the exposure to so many national media outlets has been “great for freelance work,” said Hernandez.New friendsWhile not part of the national media, Colorado Judicial Branch spokeswoman, Karen Salaz, has spent plenty of time in Eagle dealing with the media. As a Colorado native, “venturing through Eagle County between the east and west slopes has always been a part of my life.”The change for Salaz is that the town of Eagle is no longer just an exit off of Interstate 70.”Now, Eagle represents many real people whom I consider good friends,” said Salaz. “There are some really great people here who care a great deal about their community.”Downtime has not been a big part of Salaz’s life during her frequent trips to Eagle. She said that besides a few hikes in the evening, and occasionally going out to eat, she spends most of her time at the courthouse.Salaz said the state usually gets to decide where they stay and thus far it has been the Holiday Inn Express or the Comfort Inn. She said she enjoys eating out at all of the area Mexican and Chinese restaurants.When asked if she would ever come back on her own time, Salaz answered in much the same way as everyone interviewed for this article.”Absolutely, yes,” said Salaz. “I have made too many new friends not to.”

Support Local Journalism