In rural Wisconsin, a case study in mutual aid

A violent domestic, a house fire, a knife-wielding suspect, multiple rescues, and a “seamless response” give us an opportunity to sit back and be amazed

WEST SALEM, Wis. — The evening of March 29th 2010 was a night when every working police officer in Wisconsin looked up into the sky and noticed the beauty of the bright orange full moon, a hazy golden halo adding to its luster. Every cop has stopped to take in a full moon in a clear sky at the beginning of his or her shift. Every cop knows it’s just the beautiful calm before the storm, but you have to pause and take it in and appreciate it. It was also unseasonably warm that night and cops know that the combination of mild weather and a full moon beckons the susceptible to go forth and terrify.

That is exactly what 45-year-old Keith Marchbanks did.

The estranged husband — whose estranged wife, 43-year-old Stefanie Marchbanks, had filed for divorce in January — went to the family home on in West Salem, Wisconsin. He entered and stabbed his wife in the chest and leg before she managed to escape and run from the home to the neighbors, who then called police to the rural residence.

Thank God for Mutual Aid
Deputy Dan Baudek of the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched at 8:41 PM to a report of a violent domestic in which the wife had been stabbed.

It’s difficult for police officers from larger metropolitan areas to completely perceive what Baudek was facing as his agency’s lone responding officer rolling on such a violent call in this rural area. He would not be alone for long however, because of something called mutual aid. Officers charged with policing in sparsely-populated rural areas often say a prayer thanking God for life, health, family, and mutual aid.

In Wisconsin, all a dispatcher has to do is ask another jurisdiction for help. When help comes, it arrives with full police powers even though the call may be far outside their jurisdiction. On this night, help came in the visage of Officer Jim Page of the Onalaska Police Department. Jim is well-liked 14-year veteran with the skills of a black belt, and like Baudek, the demeanor of a quiet professional.

When the two arrived at the address, the attached garage of the large home was fully engulfed in flames appearing to be spreading rapidly. The officers discovered that there were family members still inside, and after kicking in a door, the officers located the two daughters and escort them from the burning home. They also managed to rescue the two family dogs.

They were not finished yet. Before Page and Baudek were able to catch their breath after the rescues, Keith Marchbanks exited the house carrying a large 15” butcher knife in his hand. Both officers shouted for him to drop the knife, but Marchbanks just kept coming. It appeared to the officers that they were to be the next intended victims of this man, since he did not slow his relentless pace, drop his knife, or deviate from the direct path toward the officers.

Baudek drew his TASER and Page drew his weapon as they tried to convince the estranged husband to stop and drop the knife. Marchbanks held steady on his homicidal course toward the officers and obviously was not listening.

Both officers fired. The TASER probes fired by Baudek hit the suspect as Officer Page’s single round struck Marchbanks in the upper abdomen. The suspect fell approximately six feet from the officers. Then the cops did what separates the good guys from the bad guys. Baudek and Page — along with other first responders — vigorously worked as a team to save the life of a man who moments earlier seemed intent on taking theirs.

At the time of this writing, Marchbanks was in critical condition after surgery.

Post Incident
Sheriff Steve Helgeson of the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department praised the “seamless response,” to this life-and-death emergency.

Chief Jeff Trotnick of the Onalaska Police Department reported that Page is on administrative leave, following post shooting “protocol.” He said Officer Page “is doing as well as he can… as well as can be expected under the circumstances.”

In law enforcement, there is a tendency to debrief and critique the big calls. The community will do that. The media will do that. The officers involved may even do that.

Once in a while you have to sit back and be amazed at how much was done by so few under the worst possible conditions. You have to marvel at the “seamless response,” the teamwork, the tenacity, the courage, the decisiveness, and the technique of some police work. You have to take it in, play it back in your mind and take it in again.

Sometimes a police call can be so overwhelmingly dynamic and unique that any immediately successful response is as amazing as that catch by David Tyree during Super Bowl XLII. You play it over and over again in your mind and every time you say: “Wow! Wasn’t that something?”

There were three things that were visually spectacular that night. One was the full moon, the other this call, and finally this response.

Take a minute to picture it in your mind. Picture yourself there: the full moon, the burning house, the rescues, the homicidal assault, the disregarded shouts, the simultaneous shots, the hits, the suspect falls and harms no one else, the rescue of the suspect as the fire department jumps into action to save the house.

Did you picture it? You did?

Wow! Wasn’t that something?

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