by Bill Donnelly
Bee staff writer
This article appeared in the Fresno Bee, Monday February 8, 1988, page A8. I never met Dick Palmquist in person, but I did know him and his story before this article appeared. I spoke with him on the phone and had copies of all his articles on Nyrah Brazell. All I can say is that he was a sincere and honest man who was rather frightened of the consequences of publishing the articles mentioned.
The most solid proof of Dick's arguments I saw were the pictures of Nyrah's car in the junk yard which clearly contradicted the police accounts of the accident, while helping to substantiate the claims of Phil Makinson.
PIXLEY - The investigative reporting style of Dick Palmquist, publisher of the Weekly Enterprise News, has earned him a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde reputation among residents of this small Tulare County Community.
His supporters praise him as the "newsman with guts."
His detractors refer to him as a "joke who doesn't live on the same planet" with the rest of the town. They say he has divided the community and is a "defender of the underdog who fights all his personal battles in his paper."
The subject of a controversial crusade Palmquist is waging in print is a 1985 traffic collision that killed two undercover deputies and resulted in the driver of the second car, Nyrah Brazell, being sent to prison for five years.
In bold stories and headlines, Palmquist has taken on Sheriff Bob Wiley and the California Highway Patrol, accusing them of a "cover-up" in their investigation of the crash.
No matter which side you're on, one thing is certain - Palmquist has gotten the attention of the community with his crusade to get Brazell out of prison.
His accounts of the accident also are getting attention ouside Pixley.
He took his arguments to the Tulare County grand jury on Jan. 28 and has written the attorney general.
He hasn't gotten a reply from the attorney general, but he did get the Pixley Town Council to agree to write the attorney general on his behalf asking for a reply.
Council member Al Dung said, however, that the council does not endorse the articles Palmquist has written about the accident.
A soft-spoken former seminarian, Palmquist and his wife, Dolores, bought the Pixley paper in 1973 for $9,000 and combined it with the Terra Bella paper the following year. They also own radio station KDNO in Delano.
A couple of things persuaded Palmquist to conduct his own investigation into the car crash and "take on the establishment."
One, said Palmquist, was when Wiley allegedly blocked his efforts to find out how many counties in California other than Tulare County have one person serving as sheriff and coroner.
Another was when Phil Makinson, who is now in prison serving time for insurance fraud, contacted Palmquist and told him he had witnesssed the crash and that Brazell was not at fault.
Makinson, identified by Palmquist as an itinerant minister, claims that he was rebuffed by CHP officers at the scene of the crash and that authorities declined to use his testimony in court.
The accident occurred Aug. 5, 1985 on the Highway 99 off-ramp at Highway 120, about two miles north of Pixley. It has become almost an obsession with Palmquist.
He has obtained a copy of the CHP report on the accident and a transcript of Brazell's trial. He has dozens of photographs of the two cars involved, which he studies almost daily through a magnifying glass.
The CHP investigation showed that Brazell's car was speeding on the Highway 99 off-ramp and that her car went through a stop sign. The report said the car driven by Deputy Monty Conley was traveling at 38mph. Conley and Deputy Joe Landin were killed in the crash.
CHP public affairs officer Ted Eichman said the Highway Patrol has furnished Palmquist with all the information he is entitled to have.
"He's not hurting our reputation," said Eichman. "Brazell was tried by a jury of her peers."
He said Palmquist has accused him over the telephone of "conspiracy and a cover-up of the accident."
But, Eichman said, the CHP has no plans to "take on" the publisher.
If I respond to his questions he will have one more [article] and then one more after that," he said. "It would be a no-win situation for me."
Undersheriff Doyle Hoppert said the Sheriff's Department resents the implications of a cover-up and conspiracy.
"We weren't involved in the investigation other than the coroner's aspect," said Hoppert. "We're an innocent party."
He said the department is "obviously keeping copies of the information [in the newspaper] and that appropriate people are being kept informed."
Asked if the Sheriff's Department planned to file a libel suit against Palmquist, Hoppert said he "wouldn't rule it out."
Accurate or not, Palmquist is getting his version fo the crash to readers in Visalia, Tulare and Porterville.
Circulation has increased steadily since the accident stories first appeared two months ago.
Sixty additional papers were sold on Jan. 28 when a large two-column picture of Wiley appeared on Page 1 under the heading: "WANTED."
Beneath the picture were the words "For Questioning" and more than 20 questions about the investigation.
Palmquist claims only two readers have called protesting his attacks on Wiley and the CHP.
The Bee asked several business owners in Pixley - poopulation 1,500 - what they thought of Palmquists's articles.
The majority opposed them, but only two people agreed to be identified.
"He makes me want to throw up. I wouldn't spend a dime with him." said Bill Martin, owner of Basic Industries.
The business is only about 100 yards from the overpass where the accident occurred.
Because of this, Martin was able to watch the CHP investigation in the days following the crash.
"They did a very thorough job, a very methodical examination," he said.
Martin said his dislike of Palmquist has reached the stage where he's going to write him a letter, the first letter he has ever written a newspaper.
He said Palmquist makes a habit of standing up for the underdog without checking both sides.
He cited an example where Palmquist took the side of a man who alleged that the Bank of America had made a mistake in recording his payments. Eventually it was shown that the bank was right.
A woman walking in the downtown area offered an argument in favor of Palmquist. She likes the way he wants to get at the truth.
"I like it. I like a newsman with guts," she said.
A short distance away a business owner said, "It's great that someone is willing to stand up for what's right, to be willing to dig until he finds the truth."
The businessman said the news articles have "opened a lot of people's eyes to the fact that there might be a cover-up."
In the same block another business owner said Palmquist "isn't dealing with a full deck."
Wayne Tait, owner of an oil distributorship, said Palmquist "may not be well-liked, but he's made people have doubts about the accident investigation."
Another business owner said Palmquist's stories have hurt the community. "His reporting style does nothing but divide," he said. "He's more of a joke than anything."
Palmquist hasn't pulled his punches in the crusade - he emphasizes that it's not a vendetta - to free Brazell.
In the Jan. 28 issue, some of the questions asked of Wiley suggested that the deputies were under the influence of drugs at the time of the crash.
Wiley and the CHP have not been Palmquist's only targets. In earlier issues of the Enterprise News, Palmquist said the "Brazell trial was choreographed."
He said that if there wasn't a conspiracy to "railroad" Brazell among the district attorney, the Public Defender's Office and Superior Court Judge Edward Kim, the "trial nevertheless was handled in the same way it would have been if the three had been meeting daily for a month to plan it."
In the Jan. 21 issue of the paper, one headline read: "CHP accident version compared with reality."
Another headline said "The CHP will not answer questions," and a third contradicted Wiley, saying that the deputies were answring a call to Porterville and were not on their way back to Visalia.
In the Jan. 14 issue Palmquist corrected a mistake from the week before. A headline reported: "Error in accident story! There was no tachometer!"
He had reported in the Jan. 7 issue that the tachometer driven by Conley had stopped at 4,000 revolutions per minute, which would have meant the car was traveling much faster than the 38 mph recorded by the CHP.
The mistake didn't derail Palmquist's mission to help Brazell.
Each issue has produced a new attack and each new one appears to be a little more daring.
Palmquist knows he is inviting libel suits.
"I would prefer to be sued for libel and bring it all out in court than to continue living and working in Tulare County under these law enforcement conditions." he said.