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"The Cold, Long Snow

The guys on my Team knew we'd catch the guy. We were tracking him with Marco. Tracking in the deep, cold winter can be challenging. But when it's for an armed-suspect, it can be a little more dangerous.

Cold Track Criminal Interdiction

   One “catch” that Marco received a special award called the Superintendent’s Group Citation was for an apprehension on a cold late evening.  Marco did a winter track with an apprehension at the end of the track after a failure by the suspect to comply with my commands. Marco had always been a really good tracker. He had made several successful tracks of suspects during his job as a  K-9; from the guy who fled into a cornfield who had a pretty sweet setup with an elaborate marijuana harvesting operation in northern Hall County to another guy that had fled on foot from some of our drug agents who were trying to arrest him on a warrant for some drug sales.
     This first guy with the marijuana harvesting operation had arose some
suspicion while driving a bicycle down a county road and then when a local resident confronted him, he literally picked up the bicycle and threw it across the fence into a fully grown cornfield. He wasn't a huge large scale criminal but did have a pretty nice one-man harvesting setup he had been pretty successful on.  
   Soon the Airwing 's aircraft arrived and Marco and myself along with the
constant backup of George Scott started a track at the last known spot this guy was seen. Marco was immediately on the track and we were soon in the 9 foot-tall corn stalks tracking this guy. It was hot, muggy and downright miserable. Log story short, with Marco tight on this guys track, we flushed him out of the field and he then ran across the road and then into an adjacent cornfield.  
    The aircraft spotted him as he fled the field crossing the county road and right back into another field so we soon followed. After we entered the other field, Marco again got right on this guys track. When we were about 300 yards inside the field Marco located the guy who must have figured we were hot on his heels and instead of continuing to run away he stopped and then tried to hide himself lying on the ground under some cornstalks.  That guy wasn’t so lucky.
    The night Marco was successful in the cold winter snow field started out
in our Headquarters Troop Area located in the Capitol city of Lincoln and the area is a fifteen county area. A suspect wanted out of Texas on several
Sexual Assaults of a Child offenses as well as a weapons violation was in our area the Patrol learned.  
    Ralph Hurkey had been located in our state on the eastern edge of my Area but still inside the Headquarters area in Seward County. He had been located by good old fashioned police work on behalf of our agency and the authorities in Texas.  The HDQ SWAT had been assembled with intelligence he was hiding out in a rural farm residence in Seward County. With surveillance on the farm soon arriving and the HDQ SWAT soon to make their entry, no one was aware that some way this guy had slipped away less than 30 minutes before the surveillance had arrived.
   So the flash-bangs and tactical entry was all for not but soon after interviewing the suspects inside the rural farmstead, it was learned that the wanted man had relocated to another farm around twenty miles away. This time the home that he was allegedly in was in our Area; but with an already assembled SWAT team it only made sense for them to try and get
this guy at the second home.  Unfortunately just before they arrived he had again slipped away but this time on foot.  He had been tipped off.
     Since I was Team Leader for our central  C Team I soon received a phone call from our dispatch center. I was home enjoying a scheduled day off and was advised of a callout requesting our SWAT Team to assist the HDQ Team. I didn’t receive a lot of information but was told the team needed to assemble rapidly because of a guy that had fled on foot.  There
was no request for Marco but that’s probably because it’s a ‘given’ that when called out for whatever capacity, a dog-handler always should have his dog with him.  
    So after I quickly got dressed, I ran to the outside kennel and retrieved Marco.  He saw I was running and he immediately became excited.  I unlocked the kennel and he immediately ran out running right to my Patrol unit.  I opened the tailgate to my truck and then unlocking the rear door to his patrol/kennel he jumped in.  We were off.  I had learned we were to meet just off U.S. Highway 81 over in York County.  This was not far and I knew I would be there before the rest of the Team who mainly resided in the Grand Island area.
    When I got within five miles from the Interchange on Interstate 80 that junctions with U.S. 81, I got a call from Sgt. Mike Kerby.  Mike was our Head Dog trainer and the first words out of his mouth were, “Hey Go, (my nickname) you got Marco?”  “Yep” I answered and Mike explained this guy had fled on foot out the back of a farmhouse and the HDQ guys were
holding tight for the dog. When I showed up near U.S. 81 I was directed to the farm which was about five minutes from the interchange.  
    I arrived and soon was getting briefed by Sgt. Russ who at the time was the TL (Team Leader) for the HDQ Team.  He said this guy was most likely armed and that a request for the Air-Wings helicopter had been made.  He said that the pilots said they would be there as quick as possible but they were gonna have to switch out the FLIR (Forward Looking In-fraRed) device from one of the Air-Wings fixed wing planes to the Bell helicopter.
    Russ also said this guy was someway getting information that we were after him from the first residence so he was hell-bent on getting away. Only thing was, that this was a Texas boy and we were right now in the heart of a cold Nebraska winter.  It had snowed eight inches two days before and the area he had fled into was nothing but snow covered rural Nebraska.  We didn’t think the Texas guy would last long in this kind of climate but we knew we had to find him then deal with his condition.
   As soon as I had gotten the briefing from Russ with Mike standing there I was told that three of my Team members were within fifteen minutes from arriving.  I decided to wait that crucial fifteen minutes for my guys to work the area with Marco and myself along with a partial amount from HDQ’s Team.  
     I knew the guys on their way were George Scott, Buck Duis and Jeff Wilcynski. Like I have said before, George was constantly around in the years I had Marco.  Buck is a real good friend of mine and at the time hewas a new dog handler with the PSD division and Jeff was practically a neighbor of mine who was new on the Team but an excellent Operator.  So
once they all arrived, I briefed them and then took the members from HDQ’s Team to include Frank Peck.  Frank’s been a great friend of mine since 1992 when I first met him in October ‘92 at Dog camp.  That was when he and I spent hundred of hours for weeks and weeks as a couple of the newest dog handlers.  
    I told Frank that I would start Marco on a track with his Team members on my left and my Team on my right while we worked in a wedge formation
having Frank in the middle of the wedge and myself and Marco up on the top.  A wedge is actually a “V, but upside down. So Marco and me were the tip of the upside “V” and the team members were the sides with good old Frank in the middle calling out our direction of travel and movements to the command post.  
   As soon as we got started from the back of the farm residence where Hurkey had fled, Marco was “on it”.  We started the track and moved overterrain of all sorts.  We were going through pastures, over roadways and through tree lines.   All the time we did this, we were traversing over snow that at times was gone (on the roadways-they were just ice now) to snow that was several inches to literally snow that was several feet deep. The deep snow was when Hurkey would find culverts (tunnels) under the roads which the ditches would be filled with deep snow.
    We started heading now towards a farmstead a mile away.  As we gotclose we had to cross several fences and eventually saw it was a farm that had several large grain bins, a large barn and several feedlots.  But there were no signs of activity.  No livestock and no home to speak of. Just
another typical farm of the past that no one resided at but the land was still farmed. It looked as though the farm was in fairly good shape it just was mainly a storage place for farm machinery in the barn and the feedlots looked as thought they had recently had livestock with trampled snow everywhere.
     But once we were on the property, Marco didn’t track towards the barnor the grain bins.  Instead he tracked to a fence we had to cross and then Marco went along the side of a fence line towards a ditch that had trees sporadically along what was probably a dried up creek bed.  Marco tracked right to a small cedar tree and started to alert all over it.  The cedar was only about five foot tall and looked broken down. It was almost bent over.  But Marco was all over it sniffing and hunting.  I told the team to really keep their eyes open because Marco was very excited now.
    But soon Marco was off on the track from this tree back towards an openfield.  We knew we were on the track very often because of the footprints we would see in the snow.  But many times these footprints would be covered because the snow was blowing.  Yes, we have wind here in Nebraska, and when you combine that with cold air and snow, it makes life a little hard.  So we were in the middle of this cold weather tracking this guy and had now been at it for almost fifty minutes.
   One time Marco tracked down a rural roadway until he started to go off the side and we saw there were deep foot prints and we knew we were over top of a culvert.  We knew Hurkey had fled under here, so the plan was simple: Yell out the commands for the suspect to show himself or respond, or, the dog was coming on down.  So I briefed the command post via Frank and the team members to be ready.  Then I yelled “Sound off or I'll send in the dog!” this was repeated several times and these commands always excited Marco so he knew what was next.  No more tracking, its 'criminal catching' time.  I released Marco from the long thirty foot tracking lead and he ran down the hill into the dark tunnel and we heard nothing.  I recalled Marco and he came back and I redeployed him. This was in case the guy was in the culvert hiding somewhere.  
   Again, nothing was heard, and I again recalled Marco.  We then tactically entered the culvert.  This one was almost six foot tall, ten feet long and about fifteen wide.  Hurkey wasn’t here but he sure had been. We found a partial cigarette lying on the snow and we couldn’t believe this guy was stopping to take a smoke break.
    This was getting exhausting and cold and frustrating.But soon the helicopter had arrived from its base location of Lincoln.  As the helicopter arrived it watched the Team for some time and saw from where the track had originated (the farm house) and where we were currently at, and saw the general direction of travel.  The direction of travel was by far not any straight line.  But it was in a south easterly direction.  So the helicopter scanned ahead and their scan hit pay-dirt!
   The helicopter was being piloted by my good friend  Ron Rife.  He was assisted by Air-wing sergeant John Olsen “Johnny O”.  Ron had been in the agency for many years with him being on the C SWAT with me years earlier before he transferred to the Air-Wing.  Ron had been on our Team and it was nothing but a pleasure working with him.  So when I knew he was in the “bird” I knew from experience what Ron would do to help us fellow coppers.  
    As Ron and Johnny O flew up ahead they soon spotted a “hot spot” along the side of a road.  They watched it from a distance zooming in the magnification and soon saw what they had figured. It was him. Hurkey had a dug himself a “snow cave” in a twenty foot tall snow pile.  The snow pile was up higher than the road on both sides and went for hundreds of yards along the sides of the road. The snow pile was the result of large snow-blade machinery having to come in to clear the roads.  This particular area of the road was in a low spot that would “drift” over with deep snow.  So the pile of snow made a place for Hurkey to try and hide.
    After the helicopter identified that they had located him, we were picked
up in several vehicles that were following or paralleling us as we moved. So we now were brought by vehicles close to the “hot spot”.  As we were guided into the pitch-dark, cold air to the location, we slowly climbed the hill of snow.  We were not exactly sure of the suspect’s location and the helicopter had not illuminated his location with the ‘night-sun’ at our request.
    Once we climbed to the top of the snow hill we were actually on top of another field.  So we crossed a fence and as I came in wide ‘slicing the pie’ to the area, I saw the cave.  I started to yell commands “Let me see your hands!”  I yelled this several times but he showed no hands. I could barely see him lying back in the cave on his back.  I then yelled I was going to send a police dog in if he didn’t show his hands.  He still refused. So Marco was deployed in the hole and soon latched onto Hurkey's right thigh and then transitioned his bite to Hurkey's arm.  
   Now that Marco was apprehending him, I knew we were not going to move in to that position but would actually “bring them to us”.  Marco was just one of a handful of our dogs that was SWAT certified. That meant he had been able to do many other things in the realm of patrol work that all of our dogs had not been exposed to.
   One of those facets was a technique called “drag-line’ training.  This is where the dog is pulled back towards the handler by the long line.  But the object is that this is done after the dog has made a physical apprehension. This is used in a dangerous situation and takes a very strong dog becausethe force is working in two directions on the dog.  The force of the leash being pulled (usually by two people) and the weight of the suspect that the dog is attached to by the dog attached with his teeth.
   So I pulled Marco with one hand and my gun out trained on the suspect
with my other hand.  Soon, seeing that my fellow Team members were covering him, I holstered my sidearm and then used both hands and pulled on Marco.  As I pulled Marco, this drug Marco backwards which drug Hurkey out of the hole. Buck went in for the apprehension while Marco was still attached to Hurkey’s arm.
   This is another facet of the SWAT certification with the dog.  Being able to work in close confines with other officers while still on task.  I called Marco off the bite and he soon released, but there was fence in between Hurkey and myself.  This caused Marco to get snagged on the barbwire fence resulting in an injury to Marco.  Marco snagged his thigh on the sharp barb.  Later that evening Marco would need five staples in his thigh to close the wound. I soon was praising Marco as Buck reached in for the
apprehension of Hurkey placing him in handcuffs.
     Hurkey was soon transported to the hospital back in York where Investigator Bob Frank interviewed him about his fleeing to Nebraska after his charges in Texas.  I arrived at the York hospital to do my own interview of Hurkey.He was in one of the treatment rooms in the ER and he was still shivering.  He had said that he fled and didn’t know the area so he didn’t really no where to go.  He admitted though along his route he had came to
rest in a small cedar tree by sitting practically on top of it in a farmyard and also that he had fled underneath a culvert .  He stated that he did this to rest as he was running almost the entire way he was fleeing.
   I had not been able to really speak with Hurkey until almost and hour after arriving at the hospital.  The doctor said that Hurkey’s’ body temperature had dropped to 92 degrees when he had been brought in and said it had probably been lower but knew that SWAT members had provided heat to him once he had been put inside one of the command post vehicles.  The doctor said that most likely Hurkey would have died in the snow cave had he not been found. He explained that Hurkey was in stage 2 of hypothermia and was going to be kept overnight at the hospital.  Hurkey was also treated for the bite wounds he sustained.
   Hurkey was lucky in many ways that cold night in York County Nebraska. He was lucky he didn’t die in a snow hole but more than that; he was lucky it was Marco called to the task of finding him.  Marco came through in a big way on this apprehension.  And it made all of us happy.

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