Newsman Richard Threlkeld Dies in LI Car Crash

Obit Richard Threlkeld
In this 1996 image released by CBS, CBS News' Richard Threlkeld is shown. Threlkeld, who worked for ABC News from 1982-89 and spent the majority of his career at CBS News, died Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, in Amagansett, N.Y., and was pronounced dead at Southampton Hospital. He lived nearby in East Hampton. (AP Photo/CBS)

Richard Threlkeld, a far-ranging and award-winning correspondent who worked for both CBS and ABC News during a long career, has been killed in a car crash on the East End of Long Island.

The 74-year-old Threlkeld died Friday morning in Amagansett when his car collided with a propane tanker. He was pronounced dead at Southampton Hospital, according to the East Hampton Police Department. He lived in nearby East Hampton.

The driver of the tanker, Earl Fryberger Jr., of Coatesville, Penn., was not injured, said police, who are investigating the accident.

Threlkeld spent more than 25 years at CBS News before retiring in 1998. He was a reporter, anchor and bureau chief who covered the Persian Gulf War and the Vietnam War, the Patty Hearst kidnapping and trial, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, and the execution of Gary Gilmore.

He was one of the last journalists evacuated from Phnom Penh and Saigon when those cities fell to the Communists in 1975.

CBS News correspondent Bob Simon was with him when Saigon fell.

“Richard was old school in the best sense,” Simon said. “He really didn’t give a damn about being on camera. He didn’t do many stand-ups. He always figured there was more interesting footage than himself.”

Threlkeld covered the presidential campaigns of candidates ranging from Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s to Bill Clinton in the 1990s. He worked alongside Lesley Stahl as co-anchor of “The CBS Morning News” from 1977-79, and reported for “CBS Sunday Morning” from its inception in 1979, as well as for “The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather.”

In 1981, he decided to jump to up-and-coming ABC News without fanfare and without telling CBS.

“I don’t like to horse trade. I’m not a horse,” Threlkeld told The Associated Press at the time. “After I decided ABC was the best place for me to go, it would have been wrong to make a verbal agreement and take it back to CBS to see what they could do.”

He described CBS as “the Rolls-Royce of TV news — traditional, utterly dependable and very predictable,” while ABC “is like a Ferrari — real fast, not always predictable, but a lot of fun.

“At this stage of my life,” said Threlkeld, then 43, “I’m in a Ferrari mood.”

At ABC News, he reported for “World News Tonight” in a role he tailored for himself as a sort of roving news analyst.

On Friday, ABC News president Ben Sherwood called Threlkeld a “terrific writer and master storyteller … always full of ideas.”

Threlkeld returned to CBS News in 1989. His final assignment at CBS was as Moscow correspondent. From that experience, he wrote a book, “Dispatches from the Former Evil Empire,” which was published in 2001.

His last appearance on CBS was in 2004 on “Sunday Morning,” when he came out of retirement to help celebrate the broadcast’s 25th anniversary by doing a feature story.

Threlkeld originally joined CBS News in 1966 as a producer-editor based in New York.

Born on Nov. 30, 1937, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he was raised in Barrington, Ill. He graduated from Ripon (Wis.) College and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

During his career, he won several Emmy and Overseas Press Club awards and an Alfred I. du Pont-Columbia University Award.

He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Betsy Aaron, a former CBS and CNN correspondent; a brother, Robert, of Port Townsend, Wash.; two children, Susan Paulukonis, of Alameda, Calif., and Julia Threlkeld of Yonkers, N.Y.; and two grandchildren.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.