SAN ANTONIO – To those of us who’ve spent decades working at KSAT, this week in Spring brings a moment of remembrance of one of the worst nights in news coverage in San Antonio, a night when all the bright cross talk of KSAT’s 10 p.m. Nightbeat went silent.
A YouTube video tribute by a former KSAT 12 intern literally shows you that moment (1:22-1:42 in the video link). It was in the final minutes of the Friday, March 26, 1999, newscast, when our producer told us in our earpiece that there had been an accident with our news crew. Reporter Michelle Lima had reported live from the scene of a search for a missing 9-year old boy. As she was helping pack up for her next location, she was struck by a truck on a dark rural frontage road in South Bexar County. We said nothing to our viewers in words, but our grim faces spoke volumes.
Back in the studio, our producer told us Michelle was conscious, which was good news. But then we were told AirLife had been called. Our hopes fell.
After decades of covering the news, we knew that meant Michelle was in deep trouble. We all, the entire newsroom, rushed to Wilford Hall Hospital, where we would keep vigil all night. By morning, doctors told us we needed to say goodbye. She was only 30.
The shock visible on our faces 20 years ago during Michelle’s last newscast would stay with us for days. Instead of watching Michelle on the weekend edition of KSAT 12 the next day, I would take her place and anchor the most difficult newscast of my life to date.
Informing her beloved viewers that this rising star of television news was no more had a tremendous impact on not just our newsroom but on our community. Some news anchors and reporters are well-liked, but Michelle Lima was loved.
Michelle was a smart reporter, a beautiful looking person, a full-ride Loyola University scholarship recipient and one of the nicest people you would ever have the pleasure of meeting. She was headed places that, as it turned out, we were not.
Her fellow anchors are all for the most part still in San Antonio, and we all still regret she did not finish her dream.
The photographer who worked with Michelle on that final story, Sal Salazar, is still with us at KSAT. Sal’s memories are the most vivid among us.
“March 26, 1999 (at) 9:50 p.m. is a date and time that will forever be etched in my mind,” he said. “In this fast-changing business, there are still several of us that were here that day, and I know we will never forget her beautiful smile and amazing personality.”
Salazar also rightly noted that KSAT work procedures changed from that point on, as well. The station makes sure reporters and photographers practice better roadside safety each and every time they are in the field.
Anchor Steve Spriester worked alongside Michelle as weekend anchor for years.
“She was my very first co-anchor, but more than that, she was a great friend and a true professional. I miss her to this day and find myself wondering what she would be doing and where she would be working now. Her loss is no less tragic today than it was all those many years ago,” he said.
Also on that first weekend team was current KSAT executive producer Mario Orellana, who said, “Michelle was one of my favorite people who walked through these doors. She was not only a great journalist and a consummate professional but someone I was honored to call my friend. I miss Michelle.”
My last conversation with Michelle is one I’ll always regret. I wasn’t feeling well that Friday night, and almost went home sick with a migraine, knowing she could take over the 10 p.m. show for me. She offered to stay and anchor for me, but I said I’d muscle through.
Then, in trademark Michelle Lima fashion, she said, "I hope you feel better soon," and then loaded up her field gear and that brilliant smile to start her assignment with Sal. That’s my “what if” moment. So much could have changed had I just listened to the universe that night and kept her safely in the station.
Her energy is something that current KSAT news director Bernice Kearney remembers, as well.
"The thing about Michelle is she was always on the move. She was running here, running there. That woman was always moving. She also just had the most delightful personality and was one of those people who everyone loved. I know I did," Kearney said.
Today, numerous scholarships carry Michelle Lima’s name and her picture remains on the wall at KSAT in memory of a bright, shining star, taken far too soon. Even if you did not know her with us 20 years ago, take a moment and join us in remembering this lovely woman, who reminds us all that each day is a gift to be celebrated on this earth..