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Wednesday, May 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Officers deep into their work

By Jennifer Sullivan
Times Snohomish County bureau

GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Edmonds police divers walk to shore after a 45-minute training session. From left: Don Kinney, Brian McIntyre and Dave Miller.
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Edmonds police Officer Don Kinney sometimes has to search for evidence by touch rather than sight.

Kinney carries a flashlight, but it doesn't do much good when an investigation takes him to the bottom of Puget Sound at night.

The leader of the Edmonds Police Department's dive team recalled searching for a man who had driven his car off the local ferry pier. It was late at night, the wind was whipping, and the current was rough. Ferry traffic was stopped for several hours while searchers scoured the black water.

Divers eventually found the man's body in his car. He had died in an apparent suicide.

"We do every effort to locate a body," Kinney said. "It's pretty important for people to realize their loved one drowned so they can have a funeral service."

Edmonds' location on the Sound, which also makes it a prime diving area, is why the department is among a handful in the county with dive teams.

"We have one of the best diving areas in the Pacific Northwest here," said police Cpl. Fred Bonallo, who helped start the Edmonds dive team in 1984. "It's located in the city, so we need a dive team here."

Edmonds Underwater Park, just off the beach at Brackett's Landing, has man-made reef structures, including a sunken 325-foot-long dock, a number of boats, tires and a truck bed, strewn on the bottom of the Sound. According to the city, more than 25,000 divers visit the site each year.

The dive team has recovered about 25 bodies, mostly from the Sound. The team has also sought evidence or recovered bodies in local lakes.

Police divers Don Kinney, left, and Brian McIntyre prepare to head into the water. Kinney is the Edmonds dive team's leader.

Some of the dive team's work is related to accidents that happen as a result of scuba diving, boating or other recreational activities. In those cases, the team is often called on to recover the bodies of drowning victims.

Kinney said the team spends most of its time recovering evidence — weapons, for example. Searches for missing people make up a small portion of the divers' jobs.

Kinney said the "multitasking" that officers do on land cannot be done underwater.

"You have to remember that you are doing a job which is fairly easy on land," Kinney said. "You have a limited air supply, buoyancy control, thermal issues, decompression sickness and boat traffic."

Kinney said that because of these issues, it's "much more difficult to put cases together."

The Everett Police Department, the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and the Tulalip Police Department also have dive teams.

Officials with each agency said they are often called out to help neighboring cities when divers are needed.

Because diving is a minimal part of these three agencies — Everett officers have to use their personal dive gear for the job — the teams are used on a call-out basis only most of the year.

But in the next several weeks, the Everett department will begin its annual warm-weather routine of having a diver on duty at all times, Detective Jeff Shattuck said.

All Everett dive-team members are cross-trained to drive the agency's three boats. Because of the number of visitors to the Port of Everett Marina every summer, there is always a police boat in Port Gardner Bay, Shattuck said.

He said officers make about 2,000 contacts with boaters each summer. This number can include everything from warning people about life jackets to arresting boaters under the influence of alcohol.

Shattuck said officers also regularly inspect vessels for life jackets, fire extinguishers, and working lights and horns.

The seven-member team also handles drownings and evidence recovery in Silver Lake, the Snohomish River and local sloughs. Shattuck said the department has had a dive team since the late 1960s.

Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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