Multiple Law Enforcement Rescues Within a Week

July 23, 2013

Russ Hass, like many other drivers, crossed the bridge on Route 29 over the Rivanna River Tuesday afternoon, but Hass stopped.

"The reason I stopped was just because I knew something was going on wrong," said Hass.

Hass says he saw a man standing on the ledge of the bridge rocking back and forth as if to jump.

When he stopped, he noticed another driver had gotten out of her car to talk to the distraught man. Hass called police. Albemarle County Police Chief Col. Steve Sellers arrived in minutes.

"As I approached, the gentleman began to larch forward. [Hass] grabbed his shirt, I grabbed both of his wrists and we pulled him down off the wall," said Col. Sellers.

Police respond to mental health calls every day. It is a chance for them to put their Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, to work. Col. Sellers completed the course in 2011.

"I make my officers go to it and I thought I better go as well, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd have to utilize those skills that I learned in that school," said Col. Sellers.

The 40-hour intensive training familiarizes officers with how to react when faced with people who are "very agitated to the point of violence," according to Col. Sellers. He says it can de-escalate a situation and prevent unnecessary use of force by practicing role play scenarios.

"One of the scenarios I had to go through was a person in mental crisis getting ready to jump from a bridge," he said. "Little did I know that one day I'd have to do that in real life."

Seventy-five percent of Albemarle County officers are CIT certified. The department offers at least two sessions each year. Col. Sellers says he hopes to increase that to three sessions a year.

Col. Sellers says the man on the bridge is "getting the help he needs."

Tuesday's save comes just days after two elderly men -- one in his 70's and the other in his 80's -- were rescued with the help of the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office.

The man behind both rescue operations was Chief Deputy Bobby Shiflett.

Shiflett says both men wandered off while on a walk, one from the Key West area while the other was found nearly 14 miles from where he started his walk on Hydraulic Road.

"These are folks that walk each and every day. It's a routine that they do and they both went for a stroll that they normally go on and ended up being missing for quite a bit," he said.

Though both situations were unusual for the Search and Rescue, or SAR, Team, Shiflett says they do "lots of practicing."

"We don't get a lot of searches, but when you get them, it's serious because you're dealing with the weather, the elements, the heat has been extremely high the last few weeks, and those things are very critical when it comes to a search because time is of the essence when you need to get to them," he said.

A command trailer stocked with computers and mapping software, which had only previously been used for practice, aided in the second successful rescue.

Shiflett says anyone going on a long walk should bring something to drink, a snack, an ID and should tell someone where they are going and when they expect to return.

The Sheriff's Office has 60 sworn volunteer deputies and about 100 SAR volunteers that are trained in various SAR situations.

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