Crime scene tape has been posted around your favorite big pond or lake and nobody can get on/in the water until it has been searched. What has happened? Perhaps a body has been sighted underwater by a swimmer, or a fisherman has snagged something suspicious on his hook. A violent crime may have been committed in the area and the police are looking for discarded weapon(s). Or a report has come in to the police station about a missing person, and that missing person may have been seen in the vicinity of the water. Law enforcement is already on the case and if the crime scene tape is up, along with officers conducting an investigation, then a dive team is most likely working your formerly peaceful spot.
The USA has a great many lakes and assorted other bodies of water, both natural and man-made. Just a few examples:
Alaska: over 3,000,000 lakes (yes, 3 million)
Minnesota: 10,000 lakes (it’s even written on the license plates)
New Jersey: 366 named ponds, lakes, and lagoons
North Carolina: 78 named lakes as well as several bays, sounds, and hundreds of ponds.
Texas: over 200 large lakes and reservoirs.
When that many bodies of water are part of the landscape, it makes sense that the Sheriff’s Department (County law enforcement) and First Responders have teams that specialize in underwater evidence and body recovery. Why the Sheriff’s Department? It’s not about deep pockets financing the operations, it’s all about jurisdiction and best use of available resources. Many large lakes cross town lines, and the Sheriff’s Department has jurisdiction in all the towns in its County. No need to duplicate personnel, when prevailing thought is that one or two teams per County will be able to handle the job of underwater evidence and body recovery.
Note: the local Fire Department usually has a First Responder team on the site of any accident – they are trained for rescue. At some point, it will be determined whether it is a recovery or a rescue and/or if there is a need to preserve evidence. It’s usually a recovery rather than a rescue at a lake, because after a person spends ten minutes under the water without air, it becomes a recovery operation.
Are there enough on-the-water deaths to make certified-for-recovery dive teams necessary? Sadly, yes. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project tracks those stats for the five biggest USA lakes. There were 99 deaths reported in 2016, 88 in 2017, and as of this writing, 47 so far in 2018 in the Great Lakes alone. North Carolina has reported 10 lake deaths so far in 2018.
Most of the time, the lake deaths are accidental, but on occasion, bodies are found because of a homicide.
A body will float after 72 hours, and continue to float for a couple of days. After that, the naturally occurring body gas is expelled and it will sink again. Bodies are often found fairly quickly, but a body gets like jelly if it’s been in the water for a while, complicating the collection process.
Cold water will preserve a body, and warm water will cause more rapid decay, so divers must work carefully in the warmer locales. Cadaver dogs can pinpoint the location of a body to speed up the work. It’s been discovered that the longer the body is in the water, the wider the smell arc for the dogs. It’s a little like a dead fish smell, more concentrated closer to the body.
If no cadaver dogs are available, the divers swim in ever bigger arcs from the chosen starting point onshore and they work in grid patterns. If the search area is large enough, one of the onshore/on boat team members keeps a map/record of the searched areas.
In general, when working in shallow water, the investigation and recovery can be accomplished by dive teams alone. In deeper water, it will be a combination of boats and dive teams that do the search and recovery.
Most dive teams have the same equipment. They dive with aluminum scuba tanks and 3200 pounds of air will last about an hour. The basic dive suit is worn for warmth and protection – below 10 feet, it’s cold, no matter what the weather is up top. They also have hazmat suits to dive with in toxic environments.
Buoys are color-coded and are released to show when the diver(s) need help or when marking the spot.
With the smallest team of 3 people, there are:
With a team of 11 people, at any given time, there are five people in the water.
It is protocol to always keep one diver on the surface, ready to assist under water or switch places with the diver already in the water. The “tender” stays on the surface (whether in a boat or on the shore) and directs the search using a rope. The tender signals by tugs; he/she lets the rope play out, and then gives more when needed.
The “tender” not only controls the line and the search pattern, but keeps track of the air time and the clock time on a log, which becomes the official record of the diver/search activity. If there is a new diver on the team, the tender tracks to see the average air use, an important stat to have when making sure a sufficient supply of air tanks is on hand for each team member. The tender can estimate the time/air left in the tanks in use after observing the previous pattern of intake by the newbie.
After spending time in the water, the divers will be dehydrated, another thing the tender keeps track of.
Stay tuned for Part 2: “Searches.”
*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at two Writers’ Police Academy events in North Carolina. Many thanks to Lee Lofland for organizing the annual events, and to the members of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department for their informative presentations.
Most of the USA goes into a deep freeze at some point during the winter. Sadly, people have been known to die because they get stuck in their cars during blizzards. Some have frozen to death in their own homes when power was lost and the heat went off. Tragedies to be sure.
Why can’t humans survive in the severe cold? What happens to the body?
Damage to the eyes:
Your eyeballs can’t really freeze solid in ordinary outdoor activities, but you could do serious damage to them if you don’t wear goggles in extreme temperatures. Runners note: the eyes might tear a bit more, but the eyelids will blink, and deliver the salt (naturally found in tears) to coat the eyeball, effectively lowering the freezing point of the tears themselves. It is possible for the eyeball to freeze temporarily during extreme sports – like the challenging cross country Iditarod races in Alaska – but lesser symptoms (blurred vision, frostbite) can also impair a contestant’s ability to complete the course. Doctor intervention might be necessary if either of these problems occur, because otherwise, injury to the body can be permanent.
Damage to the skin/muscles:
Feet, fingers, and toes can freeze to the point of pieces falling off, or needing to be amputated. Frostnip can freeze the skin, but frostbite can freeze not just the skin, but muscles, tissues and fat beneath it. Plus, if the wind chill drops below -40F, your skin can freeze within minutes if you’re not wearing the proper gear.
I had the wrong gloves with me while on a ski trip in colder-than-we-expected temperatures years ago. True story: it only took ten minutes for my fingers to be in great pain. I knew there was a problem after five and headed to the lodge. I got first aid, and new gloves, but I stayed inside until the outside temperatures rose in the afternoon. My thumbs hurt now, just thinking about it.
Sound scary? How about this: the longer you’re exposed, the more likely it is that any damage will be permanent and/or involve amputation. I got lucky. I was minutes away from help.
Cold can kill:
Listen to the weather forecasters and government officials when they tell you to stay indoors during extremely cold weather. If you’re not dressed properly or are in a place without shelter, you might die in the wrong combination of circumstances. Every year, people in North America die from a variety of situations where exposure to the elements overtook the body’s ability to cope. In the first week of January, 2018, when temperatures dropped unexpectedly across wide swaths of North America, ten people died.
The human body maintains a core temperature of 98.6F (37 C) and when it drops, hypothermia can set in. Even a 4-5 degree drop, if accompanied by constant shivering, tiredness, and rapid breathing, can signal the onset.
We wear insulated jackets, gloves, and hats to avoid getting chilled. They trap the air around our bodies and keep in the heat. But, if the clothes get wet (say you fall through the ice while skating) the insulating effects are gone and there will be rapid body heat loss, as if you weren’t wearing that winter jacket at all. Interesting factoid: Your body type also determines how quickly you lose heat: Tall, slender people become cold much faster than shorter, heavier types.
There are levels of hypothermia. In moderate hypothermia, symptoms might include poor coordination, slurred speech, confusion, and slowed breathing. In severe hypothermia, symptoms might make it hard to tell if the person is alive or dead. They’ll lose consciousness, their breathing might become too shallow to detect, the pulse will be weak, or irregular, and pupils will be dilated. Severe hypothermia is often fatal.
How could this happen? Why would people put themselves into a situation where they might lose limbs, or even die? That forgotten bottle of milk at the store that is 20 miles away? The unexpected emergency trip to a sick relative, when you left home before the storm arrived? Braving the elements to prove something to your friends? Extreme Sports competitions? You name it. Be prepared and most of the risk for a bad ending goes away.
Dress in layers, wear a hat and gloves, wear goggles or glasses when in the snow, cover exposed skin, bring pets indoors, stock the car with water and blankets. Read “Snow Shoveling and Heart Attacks,” and “Get Ready for the Blizzard” for more prevention/survival tips.
Now that you’ve read all the bad things about getting too cold for your own good, remember that First Responders – police, firefighters, and EMS personnel – have to be out in the worst of the worst conditions. They go to work so that you can be rescued or saved from harm.
Be kind. Follow directions. Stay home if you can. Dress appropriately, no matter what activity takes you out into the cold.
For more information about the effects of severe cold on the body, see: http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/hypocold.shtml
Thanks to the readers around the world, we have reached another milestone. This is page # 200 for Kerrian’s Notebook. 🙂 Hear Hammett barking? And the shovels clanking?
When Kerrian’s Notebook came into being, Charlie and Sheila Kerrian never expected to be around for 200 pages, not counting the additional posts devoted to our famous (or is that infamous?) Visiting Detectives. That’s a ton of cases, a ton of fun, facts, and a few dead bodies.
In honor of that milestone, we have come up with a few more ways to die an unnatural death, bringing the total on our deadly lists to a lethal 200.
Unnatural death is a category used by coroners and Medical Examiners for classifying human deaths that can’t really be described as death by natural causes. It might cover events such as accidents, homicide, clueless behavior, being attacked by wildlife, or even war.
Keep in mind that law enforcement personnel only investigate these deaths if foul play is suspected. Criminal intent is not always apparent, and autopsies are only conducted when suspicious circumstances surround the corpse’s demise.
Many thanks to all of you that contributed to our earlier lists. It wouldn’t have been as much fun without your (sometimes nefarious) methods of offing some unlucky souls. 🙂
Take a look:
and now… 20 more ways to die an unnatural death.
All true, folks, but #194? Maybe that explains all the Hallmark TV episodes where the good guys are hiding in closets with LOTS of air holes.
The real question: Do you have friends that will help carry the shovels and pitchforks? 😉
If you are a writer and have used any of the ‘200 ways’ in your work, let us know in the comments and you can plug your book here. 🙂
*Photos by Patti Phillips, but nothing dastardly happened while she took them and no bodies were left behind. Promise.
*Kerrian’s Notebook, and all of its content, is intended for entertainment purposes only.