Ben Trevino was living his dream. He was a prime-time anchorman, delivering the news to one million TV viewers in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. But a drug addiction made it all fall apart, and Trevino went from reading the headlines to making them.
"It was the pinnacle that I had been striving for … that's what you shoot for — to be the anchorman. And I had reached the top," said Trevino, who'd worked his way up from cameraman to the coveted anchor spot.
Then Trevino began using cocaine. For a while, he was able to live in two worlds — that of trusted broadcast journalist and another of a drug addict.
"I spent years trying to build the public trust in me, in my word, in my advice, in my information. People looked to me in times of crisis. And inside, I wasn't being that person at all. … It was the ultimate betrayal," Trevino said.
While he was reading the news, Trevino said, he'd sometimes have a bag of cocaine in his pocket.
Describing his cocaine use, Trevino said, "I would get a cheap hotel room, cheap motel room, maybe a $40, $50 a night place that reeked of drug use … reeked of sex. … I would spend all my money on the room and the cocaine and by the end of the night, it would be over with and I'd have nothing — literally nothing."
Irma Garza, who was Trevino's co-anchor at KGBT, describes how she felt a bit star-struck by the veteran newsman in her first week on the job. "I walk into the news room and I thought to myself, oh my God, that, that's Ben, that's Ben Trevino, you know, I used to watch him on TV," Garza said.
Garza said she and her colleagues all viewed Ben as a great reporter, as a man with integrity and credibility. "You know, if … Ben said it, it was the truth," Garza said.
Trevino's fame made him a glamorous fixture on the social scene: the best tables at restaurants, tickets to sporting events.
"It was intoxicating. … I was living the fast life, you know? This is not Hollywood down here by any means, but it was my version of Hollywood," Trevino said.
Early on, Trevino said, he felt the cocaine made him more self-confident. "I thought I was a better talker, a better thinker," he said.
Façade Begins to Crumble
But as the years passed, the façade began to crumble. The trusted public figure was "freebasing" every night … melting cocaine into crack and smoking it. His moods became totally unpredictable.
Garza said Trevino fell apart just before airtime one evening. "He just went crazy," she said.
Trevino said he and Garza began to argue. They traded profanities. Garza said she thought he might hit her. "Luckily," she said, "he held himself back."
Garza said she had begun to suspect that Trevino was using drugs.
"He always had an angry look on his face. It was very rare to see Ben smile … It was like he was in his own little world and he wanted it that way," she said.
Trevino said, when his drug habit reached its peak. He was getting high everyday — either in the morning before work, or afterward.
Although Ben, his wife Kay, and daughter Alexa, appeared to be a happy family, underneath, there were problems in the marriage, and the cocaine, of course, made it tougher.
Alexa recalls, "We would be laughing and stuff and … all of a sudden he would be really mad. Out of nowhere."
At the anchor desk, Trevino's anger was beginning to destroy the broadcast.
Garza said Trevino would mumble obscenities while she was reading the news — during the broadcast.
Less than a year after this incident, Trevino's career was over. In 1996, KGBT refused to renew his contract, in effect, firing him after 19 years in broadcasting.
Everything Trevino had worked for was gone. "I didn't know how to do anything else," Trevino said.
Within two months of being fired, Trevino's wife left him, and daughter Alexa moved in with her mother's family. Even though the community still thought of him as an anchorman, the reality was Trevino could no longer find a job on camera.
Trevino says he had a $200 a day habit, but the string of jobs he held in the five years after he lost his job at KGBT weren't paying nearly enough to support his crushing dependency on cocaine.
He pawned off his car, his clothes, soon everything he owned was gone, but he was still heavily in debt to drug dealers.
The Addict's Voice Wins Out
By September of last year, the hometown hero, the man everyone had trusted to deliver the news, was desperate. He had already betrayed the public trust, now he was about to become a public menace.
"I'm sitting in the car, and I am literally banging on the steering wheel, yelling at myself, screaming. You're not a thief, you're not a robber. Is this what you really want with your life?" Trevino said another voice was saying, "Don't be so hard on yourself. … This is what you want, this is what you need. Accept it. Go with it."
Ultimately, the cocaine voice won out.
Trevino walked into a supermarket, told a store clerk he had a gun, and demanded money. Trevino knew from his days as a reporter that store clerks were trained not to resist. He had gotten away with $2,700.
Three weeks later, it was all gone, and Trevino was looking for a richer target.
Again, he relied on his knowledge from reporting to plan his crime. He said he recalled how police would release grainy, out-of-focus surveillance video after robberies, and he felt confident he could rob a bank without being recognized.
Trevino said, "I was a substitute teacher at the time. And I was teaching that day. And on my lunch break, I went and robbed a bank."
This time Trevino had committed a federal crime. Even though his image was caught by a bank surveillance camera, he was right: glasses and a baseball cap had been enough to disguise him. He escaped with more than $4,000. Two weeks later, he robbed another supermarket — almost $10,000 in just a month and a half. But 11 days later, it all ended abruptly when a clerk stalled long enough for store employees to grab him.
Trevino offered no resistance. "I said thank God it's over. Thank God it's over," he said.
The trusted reporter who used to read the day's headlines had suddenly become one of them. The community was shocked.
Daughter's Love Keeps Trevino Hopeful
Trevino now says he wouldn't return to his old life of successful anchor — and drug user. "I'd be dead today," he said.
"Addicts have three destinations … hospitals, prisons or the graveyard. I've been to rehab hospital; I'm going to prison; what's my third stop?"
Trevino was arraigned on state and federal charges involving robbery. He was sentenced to 3½ years in prison. For the newsman who had lost the community's trust, now his greatest fear was that he had betrayed his daughter.
Trevino said he told Alexa he'd understand if she didn't want him as a dad anymore. But, he said, Alexa wrote him a letter telling him he'd always be her dad.
"I'll love him no matter what he does," Alexa said.
It's Alexa's love that keeps Trevino hopeful. "Here was this little girl who had been betrayed and yet she stood by me. She was there for me. … Her love is everything to me, and as long as I've got that, then there's a chance to make things better."