On four feet, two feet, in the air and on the water: 9 heart-warming police rescues of 2022
We take a look back at rescues of the most vulnerable among us, and appreciate our better angels
The end of 2022 draws near, with all of its wars and rumors of wars, crime, punishment and sadness. The thing about all those things is that they overwhelm the good that people do all year, even when it’s hard or dangerous, for no other reason than that they are good people.
I think those good things deserve more attention than they’ve been granted. Let’s fix that with a look back at rescues of the most vulnerable among us, and appreciate our better angels. Some of those angels have four feet, the rest have two, and a few operate UAVs.
THREE ELDERS SAVED BY K-9s AND DRONES
K-9 Toby, a Hillsborough County, Florida bloodhound, put his epic ears and wrinkles to work tracking an elderly lady suffering from dementia, who had wandered from her home and become lost. Toby and his human, Deputy Craig Lariz, responded to the small town of Thonotosassa on a hot, humid May morning and took up the urgent track. They found her safe but stranded in thick grass. With their help, she was returned safely to her family.
In September, good boi K-9 Roki from the Moore County Sheriff's Office also helped to track and rescue a frail and confused woman, locating her in less than an hour. Roki and his handler, Deputy Kevin Dean, were called to a home in Carthage, North Carolina in the wee hours of a rainy night. They started their track immediately and had her back in the care of her loved ones before she could come to harm. Sadly, it was one of Roki’s last heroic saves. He died just a few weeks later after a short illness, having served his community with all his noble heart.
Then in November, Texas game wardens scored a hat trick of sorts over the course of a few weeks: two rescued adults (one an at-risk elder), and a shooting suspect captured with the help of drones and thermal imaging.
Warden Michael Hummert responded to missing persons calls in Erath and then Bell Counties, just days apart. Using the airborne technology, both subjects were found quickly and safely.
Warden Doug Williams saved a violent assault suspect before the end of the month, finding him with a thermal drone before he succumbed to hypothermia. The temperatures were freezing, and the brush the suspect was hiding in offered no protection; nevertheless, he was probably not as happy about his “rescue” since it ended with a trip to the hospital and then jail, rather than his own home.
KIDS AND DOGS
Dogs are man’s best friend, the saying goes. When it comes to rescuing children, “friend” barely begins to cover it - these dogs are protector, champion and saviors. The sheepdog metaphor holds up best here, as they bring the lost lambs home.
K-9 Maverick and his handler, Deputy J. Dye, were called to a home in Union County, North Carolina, where a teenager was reported to have run away. His family feared for his safety. Maverick, a sturdy white Labrador Retriever, is “goofy” in the office, but all business on a track. After a sniff from the teen’s blanket, Maverick followed the scent through a wooded area to a busy highway and located the runaway. Although Maverick is trained in narcotics detection as well, there’s nothing as satisfying as bringing a young person safely home.
A sunny May day in Vermont sounds about perfect, and it was a perfect day for Vermont Warden Rob Sterling and K-9 Crockett to calm a family’s fears and bring their little one home. They were dispatched to the little town of Killington, home to two ski resorts and part of the Appalachian trail, where a six-year-old child with autism was lost.
While any lost child is a priority, a child with autism can be especially challenging for searchers. They may be drawn to the noise and movement of roadways, or the glitter of water (a large percentage of accidental deaths of autistic children are drownings). They may flee or hide from rescuers, or be unable to call for help when they hear their names. A sense of urgency in the response is imperative.
K-9 Crockett is a skilled tracker, trained to find shell casings, guns and explosives as well as people. Those are useful in finding evidence of poaching, and also an excellent skill set for tracking a lost child. Despite the fact that the track was more than two hours old and contaminated by many other searchers, Crockett sifted the smells for his little target, locked on, and led Warden Sterling to the child’s location, reuniting the family.
OFFICERS ON THEIR OWN
The Rio Grande looks shallow and calm – walkable even. But it’s deceiving. Authorities struggle to control illegal border crossings but also struggle to save lives as migrants are swept away in the swift water between Texas and Mexico. A child drowned in the spring when her mother lost her grip as they fought the current; a soldier drowned a few weeks later, trying to help another drowning victim. The toll continues throughout the year, with the steady presence of the Border Patrol trying valiantly to fight back.
One bright spot shone through the grim stories in late March was when Border Patrol agents rescued a four-year-old girl who was abandoned on the riverbank by smugglers. The photo of her clutched tight in the arms of a uniformed agent, covering her ears against the racket of the airboat, hit front pages across the nation. It’s easy to ask what possible difference it can make to rescue a single preschooler when bad news pounds us all daily. The story of the little boy and the starfish answers that: it makes all the difference to the one who is saved. I think it makes a difference for the agents, too.
March 2022 was a busy month for officers saving children. Further east in Alabama, a young Rogersville police officer heard a call about an apartment fire with a toddler trapped inside. Officer Tyler Dison forced his way into the building and found the semi-conscious child. The officer was burned, and his uniform began to melt before he could exit the apartment, but he brought the little boy to safety and medical care. The child’s father told authorities he had set the fire and left his son to die, but he didn’t know that a police officer would risk it all to change the end of that story. I think “hero” is the right term for Officer Dison.
Boat patrol is kind of like court security; it’s where nothing ever happens until it does. Ipswich Bay in Massachusetts is known for swift, strong currents, a bad place for nonswimmers to be without life jackets, in a 16-foot boat. That was exactly the situation when Marine Patrol Supervisor Matthew Bodwell received a mayday about a capsized boat with people clinging to the hull. He responded immediately and was on scene within a single minute. Bodwell single-handedly pulled five boaters from the chilly, rough water, starting with a pregnant woman, and then an infant. The seasoned officer was matter-of-fact about his skill and said he hoped the incident would encourage other boaters to take safety measures more seriously.
THE CHERRY ON TOP
We’ve looked at officers who have saved children and elders using their skills, their brawn, and tools from UAVs to K-9 partners to boats. This little video is a reminder that officers are willing to save critters at risk as well as humans, even if they have nothing more at hand than…well, their bare hands.
An Oregon state trooper stopped a speeding driver along I-5 near Grants Pass, but he didn’t know that one crafty doggo would distract him so the other canine passenger could make a run for it. Happily, the trooper not only had Batman’s belt but also his reflexes, and hands fast enough to make a tight end envious. The four-legged escape artist was foiled and returned quickly to the safety of his owner’s vehicle. Instead of an angry driver and a ticket, the incident ended with laughter, a beloved pet saved (from either the wilderness or getting flattened on the freeway), and a warning.
Take an extra minute as the year draws to an end to find something that makes you grateful, something that makes you smile, something that brings you peace. You deserve that. And really, there is still good in the world. We just have to find it.