Accident Database

Report ID# 3927

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Deputies with the Etowah County Sheriff's Office and the county's Emergency Management Agency today seized equipment from the Etowah County Rescue Squad, driving off from the squad's headquarters with spotlights, thermal imaging equipment and two trailers.

Three members of the agency also had to turn in their deputies' badges.

It was the latest body blow to the rescue squad, which has been working with law enforcement in the county for more than 50 years. A rescue squad member, Vicky Ryan, died in April during a search for a drowned kayaker on Big Wills Creek. Three other squad members were hospitalized, after two of its boats overturned on the creek.

That incident is currently under investigation by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

Rescue squad equipment seizedThe Etowah County Sheriff's Office seized several pieces of equipment Tuesday, June 30, 2015, at the rescue squad's headquarters in Gadsden. (William Thornton /

But since then, the squad has been notified by several agencies that it is not permitted to operate with them. That includes Gadsden Fire, the Etowah County Fire Association and EMA. Rescue Squad Capt. David Kelton, who has only been in his position for less than a month, said today that the squad is no longer receiving 911 calls.

When a search began earlier this month for a drowning victim in the Coosa near Southside, ALEA called the Cherokee County Rescue Squad to assist in the search rather than Etowah County.

Other entities, such as the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., have informed the squad that it is not allowed to participate in events, and both Gadsden and Rainbow City have denied the squad permits for fundraising roadblocks.

The seizure, Sheriff Todd Entrekin said, involved equipment from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Chief Deputy Michael Barton said once the squad could no longer use the equipment in Etowah County, it had to be reallocated to agencies that could deploy it, due to federal regulations.

Kelton said he was notified on Friday that he had four days to prepare paperwork and turn the equipment over. The trailers were hitched and driven off this afternoon. "I want to do what's required," Kelton said. "I want to move forward."

Entrekin said he had worked with the rescue squad for all of his 33 years in law enforcement and has been "involved in hundreds of missions," from helping in searches to recovering evidence.

"In its day, it was the best thing in the county," he said. "But times have changed and needs have changed." With volunteer fire departments and more access to equipment and training, he said, the squad is not as needed.

Three years ago, the rescue squad approached the Sheriff's Office about working cooperatively, sharing equipment and training, Entrekin said. This would have made the agency an auxiliary, like the mounted unit or crisis chaplain counseling, he said, meaning the rescue squad would control any money raised for its activities. However, the squad's board of directors decided against this.

The investigation into the Big Wills Creek incident will likely head to a grand jury in September.

Kelton said the rescue squad members, who are volunteers, will continue to undergo training over the next few months. Its remaining equipment can be loaned out to neighboring agencies, he said.

"There's a 50-50 chance we'll get our equipment back," Kelton said. "Since the accident, they've put a hold on our activities, but we're still here. We'll survive and we'll be back. We need the people's support more than ever."

Still, losing the equipment was hard to take, he said. "My dad was a charter member in 1961," Kelton said. "I was there when they brought the first piece of equipment."

Update | 1:30 p.m.  Sunday

The Gadsden Fire Department says they found the body of a kayaker missing in Big Wills Creek since Saturday.  Assistant Chief Jim Matlock said after the rescue squad suspended their operations Saturday night the Fire Department kept units on the scene to patrol the banks of the creek.  Matlock said they spotted the body around 10:30 Sunday morning and then began a recovery operation.  Matlock said it took crews about an hour to retrieve the body.
The Etowah County Coroner says the kayaker is 25 year old Dakota Brett Crandall.  The Coroner also said a rescue worker looking for Crandall Saturday night passed away after the rescue teams boats overturned.  That rescue worker is 46 year old Vicky Ryan.

Update | 6:30 p.m. 

The search for a missing kayaker in Big Wills Creek in Gadsden has been suspended for the night, ABC 33/40's Sherrie Evans reports. During the search, two Etowah County rescue teams became stranded in the water after their boats overturned. Four people were taken to the hospital. 

Body of missing kayaker

recovered in Gadsden

William Thornton | wthornton@al.comBy William Thornton |
on April 26, 2015 PM
Crews remained at the creek overnight after rescue efforts yesterday resulted in three injuries and a fatality among members of the Etowah County Rescue Squad.A day after he disappeared, the body of a missing Etowah County man was recovered from Big Wills Creek. Etowah County Coroner Michael Head said Dakota Brett Crandall, 25, was pronounced dead at 11:12 this morning. Gadsden Assistant Fire Chief Jim Matlock said Crandall's body was found about 300 yards from where he went under Saturday morning while kayaking with relatives.

Matlock said crews walked the creek bank this morning and Crandall's body was spotted about 10:30 a.m. about 25 feet from the bank. It took about 45 minutes to recover the body, as crews with life vests were tied to ropes along the shore and went into the water. The area had a depth of up to 15 feet, he said, but the body was spotted in about five feet of water.

"The water was still pretty unsafe," Matlock said. "It's well above flood stage in some areas."

On Saturday, rescue squad worker Vicky Ryan, 46, died after she and three rescue squad coworkers were injured when two boats capsized during a search on the creek.

Crandall went missing near an old low head dam that was once used to pump water into the Gulf States steel mill nearby.

One of the boats got too close to the dam and was swept over the side. The second boat soon followed and nine Rescue Squad workers were cast into the creek. Members of the Gadsden Fire Department and the Etowah County Sheriff's Office assisted in rescue efforts.



Search for missing kayaker in Gadsden, Alabama’s Big Wills Creek suspended after rescue boats overturn

Posted: Apr 25, 2015 By Ben Culpepper

The search for a missing kayaker in Big Wills Creek in Gadsden has been suspended for the night, ABC 33/40's Sherrie Evans reports. During the search, two Etowah County rescue teams became stranded in the water after their boats overturned. Four people were taken to the hospital. The search for a missing kayaker in Big Wills Creek in Gadsden has stalled after boats carrying Etowah County rescue crews overturned, sending the first responders into the water, ABC 33/40's Sherrie Evans reports. Firefighters were seen using ropes to pull their colleagues from the water. Four people were later transported to the hospital, one of whom was listed in critical condition. There is still no sign of the kayaker, who authorities say wasn't wearing a life jacket. Watch ABC 33/40 News at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. for the latest updates on this developing story.

GADSDEN, Alabama -- Rescue crews in Gadsden are searching for a kayaker who went missing in Big Wills Creek. According to a fire department spokesperson, a man fell out of his kayak while paddling down the creek earlier today. Authorities said he wasn't wearing a life jacket. Crews are searching an area of water near Brooke Avenue and California Street. Details are limited at this time, but ABC 33/40's Sherrie Evans is at the scene gathering more information.

ETOWAH COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - Two Etowah County Rescue Squad boats capsized while they were searching for a possible drowning victim on Saturday. About nine rescuers were pulled from the water. Several of them were taken to the Riverview Regional Medical Center. Once rescuer recieved a lot of CPR and appears to be in critical condition. Rescuers were searching for a kayaker believed to have capsized while attempting to go over an artificial waterfall near Brook Avenue on Saturday morning. The kayak was still floating in the area when rescuers arrived but the person never resurfaced. Authorities initially responded with one boat but it capsized near the waterfall and the crew fell into the creek. A second boat responded to rescue the first crew but it too feel victim to the waterfall and capsized. The Etowah County Sheriff's Office, Fire Department, Gadsden Police and Attalla Police also responded to the scene.

Copyright 2015 WBRC. All rights reserved.

Rescue worker dies after mishap during kayaker search

William Thornton | wthornton@al.comBy William Thornton 
April 25, 2015
Big Wills.jpgBig Wills Creek, near the scene of a rescue Saturday, April 25, 2015.

An Etowah County Rescue Squad worker has died as a result of injuries during a search for a missing kayaker in an Etowah County creek.

Coroner Michael Head said Vicky Ryan, 46, died Saturday night at Riverview Regional Medical Center. Ryan, along with three rescue squad coworkers, was injured when two boats capsized during a search on Big Wills Creek.

Gadsden Assistant Fire Chief Robert Maltbie said a 25-year-old man was out kayaking with family members about 11:07 a.m. in Big Wills Creek near Brooke Avenue when he was swept into the water. The man went missing near an old low head dam that was once used to pump water into the Gulf States steel mill nearby, he said.

The Etowah County Rescue Squad began a search, and employed two rescue boats. One of the boats got too close to the dam and was swept over the side. The second boat soon followed and nine Rescue Squad workers were cast into the creek. Members of the Gadsden Fire Department and the Etowah County Sheriff's Office assisted in rescue efforts.

One other worker was taken to Riverview, and two more to Gadsden Regional Medical Center. Fire medics have still not located the missing kayaker. Maltbie said workers will maintain a presence in the area overnight and resume searching tomorrow, but will not attempt any more recovery efforts tonight.

Water levels were already high at the creek because of spring rains, which also made the current especially dangerous, Maltbie said.


Rescue squad member dies on mission

Published: Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 8:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 11:14 p.m.

A member of the Etowah County Rescue Squad died Saturday night, hours after the boat she was in capsized during a mission on Big Wills Creek near the old steel plant pump station off Brooke Avenue.

Vicky Houston Ryan, 46, was pronounced dead at 10:25 p.m. Saturday, Etowah Coroner Michael Head said.

Rescue squad members were called in to drag the creek after a kayaker was swept out of his boat near the dam. The kayaker was presumed to have drowned, according to Gadsden Assistant Fire Chief Robert Maltbie.

Maltbie said two kayakers were in the water near a low dam about 11:07 a.m. when one was swept out of his kayak. The other called for help.

He said the person was presumed drowned and responders continued their search. Maltbie said the Etowah County Rescue Squad was conducting dragging operations late Saturday afternoon when one of its flat-bottom boats got too close to the dam and the turbulent water swamped it, throwing the squad members into the water. A second squad boat moved in to try to get the members and it, too, capsized. “We had nine people in the water,” Maltbie said. Four went to local hospitals, he said, and where Ryan later died. All squad members were pulled from the water, he said, but the kayaker remains missing.

Fire department personnel were going to be on the scene overnight, he said, but water operations halted as nightfall approached. “We’re not going to be putting anyone in the water tonight. The water is extremely high and the current is very strong,” Maltbie said. “These lowhead dams like this one create so much turbulence in the water.” Getting near them is very dangerous.


[Here is a bit more info that, perhaps, helps explain why charges have been brought. Looks like a rather messy, entangled, unhappy situation for all involved. ]<>

Former rescue squad captain charged with criminally negligent homicide

Another squad member faces theft charges

By Lisa Savage, Times Staff Writer


Published: Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 1:31 p.m.

Last Modified: Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 9:46 p.m.

The former captain of the Etowah County Rescue Squad has been arrested for criminally negligent homicide related to the drowning death of a rescue squad volunteer April 25.  Michael Ervin Bettis, 49, Gadsden, was arrested on the misdemeanor charge after he was indicted by an Etowah County grand jury, according to a news release from Sheriff Todd Entrekin. The news release cited state law that a person commits criminally negligent homicide if he or she causes the death of another person by criminal negligence. Entrekin said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, marine division, was the lead agency during the investigation. Bettis was held in the Etowah County Detention Center on $2,500 bond.

Another rescue squad member has been arrested on a felony theft charge after he allegedly was involved in a theft of lights repossessed from the squad after several county agencies stopped using its services following the drowning.

James Charles “Jimmy” Kelton Jr., 62, was charged with first-degree receiving stolen property, a felony, after an incident in September in which a light tower worth $7,500 was taken from Gadsden City High School, according to Gadsden police reports. The lights were on loan from the city of Gadsden for the Mid-South Marching Festival. When someone went to pick up the lights at the high school, they were gone.

The lights were included in an inventory of equipment repossessed from the rescue squad in June.

The rescue squad had a generator, a flatbed utility trailer, an enclosed utility trailer and thermal imaging device assigned to them by the state’s Homeland Security Division. It also had large portable lights operated with a generator and mounted on a trailer owned by the city of Gadsden, which also were repossessed. It is those lights that were reported stolen from the high school three months later.

Kelton was seen with the lights and Gadsden police detectives went to his wrecker business on Forrest Avenue, according to the report. He told detectives he did not have any knowledge about the lights, but it was later determined he had them.

The equipment was repossessed from the rescue squad following a series of events triggered by the drowning death April 25 of Vicky Box Ryan, 46.

Ryan drowned after the boat she was in capsized during a mission on Big Wills Creek off Brooke Avenue.

Volunteers with the rescue squad were among those who responded to the low-head dam at the old steel plant pump station for the recovery of the body of a kayaker who went missing in the water about 11 a.m. April 25.

Gadsden Fire Department officials ordered the rescue squad members to stay out of the water and work only from the bank because of unsafe conditions. Neither fire department personnel nor the sheriff’s office dive team members went in the water.

The water was high, but the conditions at the location of a low-head dam also are dangerous. As water goes over the dam, it creates a strong recirculating current at the dam’s base. The force can trap boats against the dam and pull people under the water, even if they are wearing a life vest.

It was determined the rescue mission was to become a body recovery, and Gadsden Fire Chief Stephen Carroll said the rescue squad responded.

“They were told what to do and what not do,” he said in June.

Bettis was captain at the time. Despite the instructions, the rescue squad put two boats in the water about 5:30 p.m. One of the boats, then the other, got too close to the dam and capsizedNine rescue squad members were thrown into the water. Ryan drowned and three others were treated at a hospital. The kayaker’s body was recovered the next day.

Following the incident, the ALEA Marine Police division, Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, Gadsden Police Department, Gadsden Fire Department and the Etowah County District Attorney’s office began an investigation.

That same day, Carroll issued an order that the rescue squad not be permitted to respond or operate within the city of Gadsden.

Another drowning occurred June 14 in the Coosa River, and the following day, a representative from ALEA’s Marine Police division gave a directive that the rescue squad was not allowed to respond to incidents on waterways. Entrekin followed that directive.
Similar orders were issued in the following days from the Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency and Etowah County Fire Association, as well as organizations and companies that previously had used the rescue squad during events

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