NewsChannel 11 Takes To The Sky In A DPS Helicopter - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/18/08

NewsChannel 11 Takes To The Sky In A DPS Helicopter

When the explosion rocked the refinery in Big Spring, dozens of first responders were called in to help. At the same time, dozens of others were put on stand-by, including helicopter pilots from Lubbock's Department of Public Safety office.

Across Texas, 55 DPS pilots fight crime and provide assistance from above, and a few of those officers live right here in the Hub City.

Convicted in Idaho of aggravated battery and lewd conduct, 43-year-old Scott Noble Payne was serving his time at the Dickens County Correctional Center. However, in December of 2006 Payne scaled the fence.

"We spent about a week just about every night going there helping search for the guy," Sgt. Chad Grimmett, a DPS helicopter Pilot said.

Authorities mounted an all-out for Payne, with cops on the ground and Sgt. Grimmett in the air. 

"After about a weeks worth of searching, along with a joint effort by the ground units, we finally found the guy. That was really fulfilling," Grimmett said.

Grimmett is one of four Department of Public Safety helicopter pilots in the Lubbock office.

"You get to help other folks, these other agencies. To help them do their mission, to help them in their investigations and then with our department," Grimmett added.

Instead of a patrol car, Grimmett controls an AS-350 helicopter equipped with a thermal imager, spotlight and law enforcement radios.

"We have this radio right here that talks to police departments and the sheriff's offices. So whatever agency we are working with, we can communicate with them on the ground and say hey this is where the person is," Grimmett explained.

A flight mission across West Texas can come at any time, but with more criminals lurking around on Friday and Saturday nights the pilots stay closer to the helicopter.

"We monitor radios from inside the hangar there and when we hear a call we'll go up and say, ‘hey we're available for you," Grimmett said. "I'd say it's probably about 50 percent flying and 50 percent sitting," he added.

On this particular Friday night NewsChannel 11 got to join them for an air patrol of Lubbock. Once buckled in, the pilots checked the helicopter before taking off.

After just minutes in the air, a train smashes into a car near Slaton. For a better view of the mangled mess, the co-pilot zooms into the accident with the thermal imager.

"It operates in the infrared spectrum of heat and you can pick up their body and it helps a lot of the time to locate them," Grimmett explained.

The train dragged the car about a quarter of a mile but luckily, no one was hurt. 

The helicopter's resources also prove useful by the light of day. In July of 2007, the Lubbock Police Department called in the DPS helicopter team to help search for Alanzo Lewis. He fatally stabbed 73-year-old Don McCullough in his own garage. Lewis was later arrested at his place of employment.

Lt. Greg Stevens with the Lubbock Police Department said, "It provides an entire new element of law enforcement that you just can't find an equivalent for. There's not a substitution for that, the amount of space they can cover and the things they can see."

"Typically where there are cases when we are searching for somebody or searching for evidence or those types of matters where we need a view from the top, that's the only shot you've got. They've always been really good about helping us in anything we need done," Maj. Don Carter with the Lubbock Sheriff's Office said.

Before touching down, we flew over our home at NewsChannel 11. 

Then, looking through his night vision goggles, Grimmett landed the helicopter nearly in the same spot we took off. Grimmett says while this flight was quiet, there is no telling what or where he will be called to next.

"We get involved in different things, we do some surveillance activity, actually the search and rescues and manhunts, and stuff like that. It's a fulfilling job," Grimmett added.

Between flights across West Texas, the Lubbock helicopter team also patrols the Mexican border. There are currently only nine DPS helicopters statewide with the closest one being in Midland. A 10th helicopter is expected to start flying out of Amarillo by late summer.

2/18/08
Oil Refinery Explosion Shakes Big Spring
Around 8:20 a.m. Monday an explosion at the Alon Oil Refinery in Big Spring jolted the small town and that same explosion could be felt as far as Lubbock. NewsChannel 11's Justin Michaels reports from the scene.

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