Craighead County Sheriff Patrol Dive Team
From L-R: Deputy Brian Skinner, Whitney Edwards, Sgt. Jason Allen, Lt. Mike Miller, Lt. Phillip Wheaton, Sgt. Philip Vanwinkle, Deputy David Vaughn
|| Lt. Phillip Wheaton
Dive Team Commander
||Lt. Mike Miller
Boat Communications Operator
||Sgt. Jason Allen
||Deputy Brian Skinner
||Deputy David Vaughn
||Sgt. Philip Vanwinkle
The Craighead County Sheriff’s Office is always seeking the latest and best technology to protect and serve the citizens of Craighead County. One of these tools they employ is the Dive Team. The Dive Team was formed under former Sheriff Jack McCann. At that time, there were just three members: Phillip Wheaton, Sean Nance, and Scott Perry. Craighead County has 27 named lakes and reservoirs, two rivers (St. Francis and Cache Rivers,) and countless ditches and sloughs, so the need is great. The Team also assists other agencies throughout the region as they are called.
The Craighead County Dive Team has grown since its inception. At one time, there were four divers, a dive tender, a boat communications operator/tender, and a medic. (Our medic left the team to pursue his career as a flight medic.) Now, the team consists of four Certified Divers, a Dive Tender, and a Boat Communications Operator/Dive Tender. The team as a whole is responsible for rescue and recovery attempts of persons, as well as evidence, from waterways, swamp lands, and other inaccessible areas of the county. Each team member has a job, and the other members’ safety depends on the skill of the other team member. When a rescue diver is in the water, there are at least three other people on the surface. For the Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, the Dive Tender is watching for distress from the diver. The additional divers in the boat are suited up and “On Go” to enter the water at a moment’s notice, whether it be assist the diver in the water, or to relieve him when he becomes fatigued.
Here’s a more detailed description of each job and Deputies that serve in these positions.
Boat Communications Operator/Tender- Lt. Mike Miller serves in this capacity. As the name implies, his job is to operate the boat. More than that, he also does the mechanical checks of the boat and safety equipment. The Communications Operator works in coordination with the Dive Tender and the team on the shore. Lt. Miller is also a Dive Tender. He has certifications in Boat Operations and Rapid Deployment Search & Rescue/Recovery Tender.
Dive Tender- Sgt. Phillip Vanwinkle is the primary dive tender for this team. A dive tender stays in verbal and non-verbal communication with the diver to listen for distress calls, to give directions, and reply to questions. He also monitors the diver’s depth, location, body temperature, air supply, and breathing rate. With the tender monitoring this vital information, the diver is free to focus on the task at hand. Deputy Vanwinkle is certified as a Rapid Deployment Search & Rescue/Recovery Tender.
Diver- All four divers are certified. Their certifications include: Advanced Diver-PADI, Rapid Deployment Search and Rescue/Recovery and Underwater Vehicle Extrication Program-Diver, Specialty Diver: Underwater Vehicle Extrication, Specialty Diver: Black Water Search Operator. The topography of Craighead County varies from rocky ridgelines to literal swamplands, but nearly all the waterways obscure the range of view of the divers. Imagine if you were a truck driver, but had to drive while wearing a blindfold. The training they receive allows them to operate in inhospitable environments as efficiently as if they were diving in Lake Norfork. The divers are charged with locating and rescuing people and property, locating submerged evidence and securing it while maintaining chain of custody, and the difficult task of extracting remains. The divers train in all weather conditions, and in all types of scenarios.
The Craighead County Dive Team is part of the team that puts together the FOP Fishing Derby at Craighead Forest Park in coordination with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. This is a community outreach program that the Fraternal Order of Police has undertaken as a way to increase positive interactions with our citizens of Craighead County. The kids (big and little,) look forward to this event every year!
From the Jonesboro Sun Archives:
Archive Info: News - Mar 31, 2006
Teamwork leads to gun recovery
By Amanda Harris and Anthony Childress
Law enforcement officials in Greene County are singing the praises of the Craighead County Dive Team.
The dive team recovered a .20-gauge Mossberg bolt-action single shot shotgun that was stolen from a Greene County residence earlier this month.
During the course of the investigation into the burglary, investigator Capt. Bruce Drope learned the gun was thrown into the St. Francis River near the Dixie community.
Greene County authorities tried dragging the river with a magnet and hooks, but to no avail.
A phone call to the Craighead County Dive Team renewed their hopes that the firearm would be recovered. Craighead County authorities were eager to assist.
The 3-member dive team -- deputies Phillip Wheaton, Charles Leech and Ryan Tolbert -- ventured east to Craighead Road 988 alongside Dixie Ditch, which runs parallel to the St. Francis River, Wednesday afternoon to retrieve the weapon.
"It took us about 45 minutes to find it," Wheaton said. "The water was brown the deeper we went and then it turned completely black. We had no visibility. We located the weapon about 15 feet north of the ditch bridge."
Leech and Tolbert were both certified last year to join the team. Wheaton praised their efforts and said Craighead will help out other counties whenever it is possible to do so.
"We're an assisting agency to any county in the area when we can be," the deputy said, noting that Wednesday's dive was the team's first in 2006.
Wheaton said the water temperature Wednesday hovered around 40 degrees, and divers wore their full gear to protect themselves against the elements.
Craighead Investigator Gary Etter said Greene County officers manned a boat during the search and worked lead lines for divers as they moved about.
"We turned the weapon over to Greene County once it was found," Etter said. "It's an example of how well the counties work together."
Greene County authorities were grateful for the helping hand.
"I appreciate their time and effort and their expertise," Drope said.
Greene County Investigator Todd Harris, who assisted Drope in the investigation, characterized the team as "a valuable tool."
"I can't thank them enough for their help," he added.
Drope was especially pleased with the dive team's positive results. Finding the shotgun "seals the case for me" Drope said, explaining one of the individuals arrested in connection with the burglary had a prior felony conviction.
The dive team recovering the gun helped Drope prove the individual was in possession of the gun, he added.
For more information on Dive Team training and cases they worked, click the following links:
Team LGS Training Programs
Search for 4 year old Caleb Linn, Multiple agencies working together
Cold water extraction of Stephen Rush, Swift water hampers recovery at Big Lake, Blytheville Courier News Letter to the Editor
Submerged car near Jonesboro
Missing farmer search hampered by flood water