BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Friends, former co-workers and leaders of Bakersfield’s business community remembered veteran Bakersfield television reporter and anchor Gaylen Young warmly Friday, a day after his untimely death in a Utah traffic collision.
Young, 59, was ejected from a car being driven by 16-year-old Walker Young, reportedly his son, after a crash on Interstate 15 near Santaquin, Utah, south of his current home in Salt Lake City.
Katie Harlan Allen, a former reporter at KGET Channel 17, where Young worked for 23 years, said the news hit her hard.
“When I heard it I literally lost my breath,” she said.
Allen said Young could handle the stress generated by “the intense behind-the-scenes action” of a newsroom and get his job done professionally and well.
But he also had a rare knack for diffusing that stress for other people, she said.
“He was always the calm in the storm in the newsroom. He’d always say to me, ‘We’re not curing cancer. We’re reporting the news,’” Allen said.
And Young was a uniquely humble man, Allen said.
“He understood that the story wasn’t about him — it was about the community. Few people in that industry get that. He got that,” she said. “He cared more about the people in the story.”
Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debra Moreno called Young’s death “so, so sad.”
“He was one of the friendliest reporters of any media that we have ever worked with at the chamber,” she said. “He always had a smile and a laugh for everyone he met, and he was just a tremendous advocate for the business community in his reporting. He had a heart for business and he used it as much as he could in his work.”
Attorney George Martin, founder of the Bakersfield Business Conference, said Young was “a wonderful man” of principle and integrity.
“He was a straight-shooter and was always trying to do what was right,” he said. “I don’t think there are too many people who, before every decision, pause and think ‘What’s the right thing to do in this situation?’ I always respected and admired that about him.”
Commentators on his Facebook page expressed shock at his passing and thanks for the time they had with him.
“Stunning. Gaylen was as good an example of a gentleman as exists. A loss for us all. May my condolences and prayers offer comfort,” wrote commercial real estate agent Wayne L. Kress.
“The staff and leadership at KGET were shocked and saddened by Young’s death,” wrote station News Director John Pilios in a statement to The Californian.
“Gaylen will be remembered for his love of family and for his dedication to his profession. For many years, Gaylen volunteered his time to mentor journalism students trying to get their start in broadcast journalism.”
“Gaylen’s sudden death is not only a tragic loss for his family, but for the KGET family and the community as a whole,” said Tom Randour, KGET general manager.
Keith Lamb, a volunteer bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Fairview Ward where Young was an active member and a past bishop, remembered Young’s ability to remember joy even when life was rough.
“He was a good guy,” said Lamb. “He was very well-liked and always had a giggle and a smile.”
Young served as bishop in the Fairview Ward from 1989 to 1995.
He remained active in the church even as he nursed his late wife through a long, difficult illness, Lamb said. “He always had a lot of struggles in life, but he just tried to shrug it off and go on to help other people.”
Cpl. Todd Johnson of the Utah Highway Patrol said Young was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Walker Young, 16. Walker Young is Gaylen Young’s son, according to KGET.
Johnson said the cause of the accident was still under investigation but was likely caused by an “improper lane change.”
Walker Young’s black Hyundai Santa Fe was traveling north on the interstate when it drifted from the left lane into the right lane and clipped a green Honda Civic, Johnson said.
Both vehicles lost control, veered left and crossed the median into oncoming traffic.
The Young vehicle rolled when it hit the median, Johnson said, and Gaylen Young was ejected and landed in the median.
He died at the scene of the crash. He had not been wearing a seatbelt, authorities said.
Walker Young suffered only scrapes and bruises, Johnson said.
The other car, driven by Laura Christensen, 41, remained upright and came to a stop safely. Christensen received only minor injuries, Johnson said.
Young grew up in Salt Lake City and studied journalism, advertising and public relations at the University of Utah.
According to a biography on Young’s personal website, he first worked in the news business at KSL-TV and Radio in Salt Lake City in the mid-1970s before moving to Southern California in the early 1980s, where he worked at several television stations in the Los Angeles area.
Young worked as a reporter, anchor and news director at KGET from January 1984 to July 2007.
He received an Emmy award for coverage of the first Gulf War in 1991, as well as numerous other awards from organizations such as the Associated Press and United Press International, his biography states.
Young resigned from KGET in 2007 because, he said at the time, the station’s management wanted him to change the focus of his work.
He told The Californian that the station was dropping him as anchor of the 11 p.m. newscast and cutting his morning business reports — something Young was well known for. They wanted him, he said, to develop aggressive investigative reports for the 6 p.m. news.
That didn’t sit well with Young, who was often seen as a cheerleader for the local business community.
Young said he worked to “counterbalance most of the dirt-digging that some reporters thrive on with more positive news. I’ve tried to help smaller businesses grow by giving them a free voice to let people know they exist. I’ve tried to explain business in simple terms so average people can understand what makes our community grow and thrive.”
Young went on to work at competing KBAK Channel 29 in 2008 and 2009, and anchored newscasts for KUZZ AM 55 and FM 107.9 radio.
He moved back to Salt Lake City in July 2009, his biography states, to “be closer to most of his children.”
But Young also wrote a monthly freelance column for The Californian featuring local businesses.
On his Facebook page, which was flooded with about 150 comments of love and regret from friends by noon on Friday, Young described himself with his characteristic humor:
“TV Anchor/Reporter for many years; My wife had 6 kids. I tried to help. Now a widower, I’m raising my youngest son alone. Starting over with so much. Now a Grandpa. Nice! Hate getting older, but love my two grand kids with more on the way.”