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Posted on Sun, Dec. 12, 2004

Gary Webb, 49, former MN reporter, author


INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST WROTE CONTROVERSIAL SERIES



Mercury News

Gary Webb, a former Mercury News investigative reporter, author and legislative staffer who ignited a firestorm with his controversial stories, died Friday in an apparent suicide in his suburban Sacramento home. He was 49.

The Sacramento County coroner's office said that when A Better Moving Company arrived at Mr. Webb's Carmichael home at about 8:20 a.m. Friday, a worker discovered a note posted to the front door which read: ``Please do not enter. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance.''

Mr. Webb, an award-winning journalist, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, Sacramento County Deputy Coroner Bill Guillot said Saturday.

Mr. Webb's friends and colleagues described him as a devoted father and a funny, dogged reporter who was passionate about investigative journalism.

As a staff writer for the Mercury News from 1989 to 1997, he exposed freeway retrofitting problems in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and wrote stories about the Department of Motor Vehicles' computer software fiascos.

Mr. Webb was perhaps best known for sparking a national controversy with a 1996 story that contended supporters of a CIA-backed guerrilla army in Nicaragua helped trigger America's crack-cocaine epidemic in the 1980s. The ``Dark Alliance'' series in the Mercury News came under fire by other news organizations, and the paper's own investigation concluded the series did not meet its standards.

Mr. Webb resigned a year and a half after the series appeared in the paper. He then published his book, ``Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.''

In the past few years, Mr. Webb worked in the California Assembly Speaker's Office of Member Services and for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. The committee investigated charges that Oracle received a no-bid contract from Gov. Gray Davis. After being laid off from his legislative post last year, Mr. Webb was hired by the Sacramento News and Review, a weekly publication.

Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for state Attorney General Bill Lockyer who has known Mr. Webb for more than a decade, was distraught Saturday when he heard that his friend may have taken his own life.

``He had a fierce commitment to justice, truth and cared a lot about people who are forgotten and society tries to shove into the dark corners,'' Dresslar said. ``It's a big loss for me personally and a great loss for the journalism community.''

Services for Mr. Webb are pending.


Contact Jessica Portner at jportner@mercurynews.com.

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