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April 14, 1997

UCSC graduate wins Pulitzer Prize for news photography

By Robert Irion

For the second consecutive year, an alumna of UCSC has snared a Pulitzer Prize, journalism's most prestigious honor. This year's recipient was Santa Rosa Press Democrat photographer Annie Wells (College Eight '81), who won the prize for spot news photography.

The Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University lauded Wells on April 7 for her "dramatic photograph of a local firefighter rescuing a teenager from raging floodwaters." Newspapers across the country printed the photo on February 5, 1996, during seasonal floods that swept Sonoma County.

"This is overwhelming, just mind-boggling," Wells told the Santa Cruz County Sentinel. "I'm just shaking my head and asking, 'Who, me?'"

Wells was on another assignment when her editor radioed that two teenage girls were in danger of drowning in Matanzas Creek. The girls had been riding trash can lids, but the water was too rough and they fell in. A firefighter pulled one girl to safety. The second, 15-year-old Marglyn Paseka, became pinned in brush and swirling water about 15 feet from shore.

Firefighter Don Lopez dove into the torrent, freed Paseka's legs, and slipped a line around the girl. Others then hauled them to shore. The expressions on both of their faces in Wells's close-up brought the life-and-death situation into startling focus.

"I watched somebody's life being saved," said Wells, whose presence and skill allowed the rest of the nation to glimpse one moment of the episode as well.

Wells's interest in photography began at UCSC in 1979 when she designed her own major of science news writing and photojournalism. While her bachelor's degree is in science writing, her true calling, it turned out, was photography. After graduating in June 1981, she studied photojournalism at San Francisco State University. She then held positions at the Logan Herald-Journal in Logan, Utah, the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colorado, and the San Francisco bureau of Associated Press. She has worked at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat for eight years.

Her Pulitzer Prize carries a cash award of $5,000.

Last year, alumna Laurie Garrett (Merrill College '75), a science and medical reporter for Newsday, received the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism. The award recognized her series of articles about the May 1995 outbreak of the deadly ebola virus in Zaire. Garrett earned a B.A. in biology and spent eight years as a science correspondent at National Public Radio. She has worked at Newsday since 1988. In February 1996, she received the Alumni Achievement Award from UCSC's Alumni Association in recognition of her career accomplishments.

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Go to a complete list of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize winners

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