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Tabloid Reporters on Firing Line at Don Johnson Wedding

June 30, 1989|CLAUDIA PUIG | Times Staff Writer

As Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith were celebrating one of the happiest days of their lives on Monday, a tabloid reporter and photographer covering the couple's wedding said they were fearing for their lives.

The photographer and reporter, circling in a helicopter above Johnson's sprawling ranch about 8 miles west of Aspen, Colo., reportedly were fired at by someone with a shotgun.

"This is without a doubt the scariest incident that I've ever been involved in," said Star magazine reporter and bureau chief Barry Levine.

But Johnson thinks the two journalists are staging a publicity stunt.

"Don Johnson takes serious offense at the suggestion that any person associated with him would fire on a helicopter. He is a pilot himself who flies his own chopper and is very sensitive to safety factors involving an aircraft," said Johnson's publicist Elliot Mintz in a prepared statement. "It is our position that Star magazine attempted to photograph the wedding . . . and missed the opportunity.

"Out of frustation and a desire to whip up some public attention for the sole purpose of selling newspapers, they have fabricated an event that never tookplace."

Local and federal authorities are investigating the incident and sheriff's deputies have concluded that the helicopter was indeed hit by a round of fire. Levine, 30, and Star photographer Ross Turiak, 44, were slightly wounded by what appeared to be buckshot, not bullets, said Pitkin County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Stephenson.

"A number of shotgun pellets have been found within the cockpit of the helicopter," Stephenson said.

Stephenson said authorities are looking into filing felony charges against Johnson or someone at his wedding reception for menacing and reckless endangerment.

However, the deputy said it is unclear who fired the rounds and if they were fired intentionally.

Levine, who said he met repeatedly with Johnson's publicist in an unsuccessful attempt to arrange to photograph the couple's wedding, is certain that shots were fired to keep the tabloids at bay.

"There's no question in our minds that these people were part of Don Johnson's renegade security forces to keep the tabloid press away from his wedding by taking whatever means that they deemed necessary," Levine said.

"We're looking at this thing as a freedom-of-the-press issue," Levine said. "We have a right given us by the Constitution. . . . Do we have to have a helicopter escort with a machine-gunner on board to deal with this, or give our reporters and photographers bulletproof vests? It's totally ridiculous that they think they can get away with this."

Sheriff's Department reports indicate that Turiak and Levine were riding in a helicopter about 6 p.m. above Johnson's ranch when they heard what sounded like pebbles hitting the aircraft. Then Turiak and Levine both felt stinging sensations. Levine was struck in the right leg and Turiak was hit in four places.

Levine said they saw three people on horseback, one aiming a shotgun at the helicopter. Turiak quickly snapped some photos of the man with the gun and Levine said those photographs will appear in Monday's issue of the Star. However, Stephenson said that when authorities asked to see the photos, Levine refused to hand them over.

When asked why the press should be allowed to intrude upon a private event like a wedding, Levine responded: "We are a celebrity weekly. Our 4 million readers are primarily TV viewers, and Don Johnson is one of their favorites. It is our obligation to our readers to cover his wedding."

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