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.
I’ve said it before and it’s still true: Kerrian’s Notebook followers are a great bunch. A few of the readers mentioned that some of the posts in 2014 were ‘ripped from the headlines.’ Truth is often stranger than fiction, so while Kerrian is a fictional character, the posts are based in solid fact. As I say in my upcoming novel, “Murder is messy,” and it’s sometimes just plain weird. But, even a Homicide Detective cooks, goes on an occasional trip, and works with other law enforcement officers, so the fan faves were an interesting mix.
Below is the list of the most frequently read new posts on Kerrian’s Notebook in 2014.
Click on each title to take you to that page. 🙂
10. “How many bodies at the yard sale?” (p.122) – Based on a visit to the 2014 Writers’ Police Academy.
9. “Death by Elevator” (p.105) – Based on my real-life experience in April, 2014.
8. “50 More Ways to Die an Unnatural Death” (p.111) – The #1 vote getter was so popular that I wrote another list and it made the top 10 as well. 🙂
7. “Cemetery at the Golf Course” (p.116) – Yup, this one is true.
6. “Officer needs assistance!” (p.117) Photos taken at the re-enactment of a high-risk stop.
5. “75 Second Mookies” (p.126) – Created, taste tested and eaten by us. 🙂
4. “Chocolaty Chocolate Banana Muffins” (p.96) – Created, taste tested and eaten by us 🙂
3. “What does a firefighter wear?” (p.119) Info about uniforms and videos of heat resistance testing. Photos taken during the 2014 Writers’ Police Academy.
2. “What does a sheriff do?” (p.115) tells the difference between a Sheriff and a Police Chief, as explained to me by an active duty Chief.
…and the most frequently read new post on www.kerriansnotebook.com in 2014 was:
1. “100 Ways to Die an Unnatural Death” (p.100) Written in honor of the 100th Kerrian’s Notebook post. There were LOTS of writers that checked out the two unnatural death lists, used some of the ideas in their own writing and even contributed suggestions. Readers sent me some wickedly funny emails and some of those ideas are in #8!
Thanks to all of you, readership almost doubled in 2014. It was a phenomenal year!
Here’s to a great 2015, with fewer real-life homicides, more crimes solved and always, more amazing mysteries/suspense/thrillers to read.
*Photos by Patti Phillips
(WARNING: Some photos may be upsetting to some people.)
Last month, Sheila and I had a chance to attend a simulation with law enforcement, firefighters, EMS professionals, and students in action at a multi-casualty accident scene. We saw how their skills are tested when a drunk driver runs a traffic light and smashes into a yard sale, killing and maiming several people.
How do the EMS, firefighters, and police learn to work together to handle the horrific scene? They practice, in demonstrations just like this one.
Typically, an onlooker at an accident calls 911, gives whatever details are available – location of the accident, number of people injured, whether or not there is more than one car involved. Rarely are the callers calm and collected, but the dispatcher has to keep his/her cool, no matter how bad it sounds. The information is passed on to the agencies that can help and usually, the closest one to the accident site responds.
The First Responder assesses the accident, notifies Dispatch as to what other help may be needed, and establishes a perimeter. In this scenario, the First Responder was a deputy from the Sheriff’s Department.
He took a look at the scene, called for backup, made some decisions, checked to see who was still alive, and helped those he could while he waited.
Fire and Rescue arrived at the scene next.
The driver of the car did not appear to be injured, was not pinned inside, and no gasoline was leaking from anywhere, but the Firefighters were needed to lift the car off two victims who were trapped underneath it. One was ‘dead,’ but one was still alive.
The Firefighters used a Hurst Spreader (commonly known as the ‘jaws of life’) in addition to assorted chocks and lumber in order to stabilize the car before pulling the victims free.
Standard procedure indicates that after the initial assessment and after additional help has arrived, law enforcement takes care of the driver issues and rescue takes care of the victims. Law enforcement continues to help where needed.
A Breathalyzer test was administered to the driver, since the road was not wet, and there was no other apparent reason for him to plow into a front yard full of people. Witness statements were taken from those involved at the scene. Onlookers were kept at a safe distance throughout the simulation.
The ambulances arrived and EMS workers evaluated the injured people.
While cries of “Please help us,” and “She needs help,” were heard continuously in the background, one of the EMS workers assigned black, red and yellow tags to the victims.
Yellow tag: broken bones, but alert
Red tag: will die if not treated immediately, still breathing on own
Black tag: not breathing
After the car was elevated, the person underneath was pulled out, strapped onto a stretcher, then transported to the hospital.
EMS workers enlisted the aid of lightly injured victims and urged them to talk to the more seriously hurt. Keeping the injured awake and alert was an important part of assessment. If the victims lost consciousness, or had slurred speech, then they went to the head of the line for treatment and transport.
One of the EMS gals told us later that it’s not unusual to have to talk people into leaving others behind in order to get help for themselves at the hospital. Some victims appear to be fine, but wander around the area in confusion and shock, unaware of cuts and more serious injuries of their own.
One of the victims who kept crying out for help for others, eventually collapsed, was
put on backboard and then lifted to a gurney for transport.
The last victim was treated and transported, the driver was arrested and taken to jail and all that remained was the cleanup. The firefighters took off their jackets, gathered their gear and re-stowed it in the rescue truck.
What was the difference between this simulation and the explosion simulation we witnessed last year? That one included unknown perpetrators and a continuing threat that widened from the campus to the airport and public transportation. Both law enforcement and EMS personnel gathered evidence at the scene (which in some cases was imbedded in the victims).
At the Yard Sale simulation, the evidence collected was in the form of photos of the scene, the Breathalyzer test, as well as witness statements from onlookers and victims. The threat was specific to the scene and dealt with.
Both were crime scenes, but played out quite differently.
As we saw last year at the explosion simulation, the three groups at the ‘Yard Sale’ were professional and took the simulation seriously. Their interaction appeared seamless and we were impressed by the way they worked near each other in order to complete their assigned tasks and then jumped in to help each other when needed. Well done!
*Photos by Patti Phillips, except one.
All taken at Guilford County Community College, in North Carolina.
*Photo taken and shared by Terry Odell, writer. Thanks! Follow her blog and find out about her books at www.terryodell.com