EFFINGHAM — Teamwork between first responder departments in Effingham County and the use of technology helped find a runaway juvenile on Sunday.
Police Chief Jeff Fuesting said city and county police officers searched for the youth after first checking several locations where the 12-year-old boy typically was known to be. He was spotted entering a cornfield.
According to a press release, the juvenile, who was considered a habitual runaway, was seen running into the cornfield at 3:44 p.m., about an hour after getting the call about the missing boy. He was collected by Effingham County Sheriff's deputies at about 5:30 p.m.
Fire Chief Joe Holomy said the juvenile entered the cornfield on Rickelman Avenue, east of Fourth Street. Holomy piloted a drone above the field and the youth was spotted and contacted. The juvenile was taken by Abbott EMS to HSHS St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital for observation.
“Given the time of day and the high temperatures, the top priority was the safety and health of the juvenile, as well as first responders,” said Fuesting, in a release. “The supervisor on scene made the decision to utilize an Effingham Police K-9 Unit to track the juvenile. In addition, a drone was deployed by Effingham Fire Department personnel.”
Holomy said the idea to purchase the drone, which is registered to the fire department, came from the help of several businesses and Dr. Karl Rudert who promoted the idea with a letter to area businesses. Several then kicked in donations to pay for the almost $5,000 unmanned aerial system.
It was purchased in May.
“This was the first time the drone had been used to search for a person,” said Holomy. “The police department contacted me at home that Sunday and I came out and operated it over the cornfield.”
The original plan for the technology was to assist firefighters using a thermal camera that would allow them to find underground hot spots after a fire, get an aerial view of a structure fire, and for pre-incident planning to see on rooftops to check for solar panels and air-conditioning units, for examples.
Holomy said more drone training with firefighter personnel is planned. Besides himself, Deputy Police Chief Danny Lake is licensed to pilot the equipment. Fuesting said more officers will be trained to fly the device, too.
Fuesting credits the technology for saving time and lessening the risk of weather-related injuries to both the juvenile, as well as first responders. The temperatures that day were into the 90s outside of the cornfield.
“This was the first time we were able to utilize this type of technology,” said Fuesting. “Given the excessive heat of the day, officers made the right call to use the drone immediately, rather than risk officers walking through the dense cornfield where temperatures could easily top 120 degrees.”
He added he is thankful for the generous donations by community members to purchase this tool for public safety use in Effingham.