Search and Rescue celebrates 48 years: Organization’s president recovering from car crash

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As Teller County Search and Rescue celebrates its 48th year this month, the team takes advantage of 21st-century technology while still relying on physical prowess and a keen sense of the wilderness. “They only had CB radios,” said Mike Smith, president of the organization under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office. “They used an old school bus as the command vehicle.”

Fred and Patty White, former owners of Fred’s Towing, were founding members of the organization 48 years ago.

From school bus to the “Texas Seven” motor home, today the team’s incident command post is a souped-up Toy Hauler truck. The motor home is legendary in Teller County, as Sheriff Frank Fehn and his deputies stormed then-Coachlight RV Park in the motor home in 2002 and raided the temporary hideout of the Texas Seven.

For the search-and-rescue unit, however, the vehicle failed 85 percent of the time to access mountainous terrain.

Thanks to grants and donations, the super-duper vehicle is outfitted with computers, restrooms, running water, heat and bedrooms.

The up-to-date vehicle is the result of donations by Cruise Above the Clouds car club, Denny’s of Woodland Park, local contributors and Pioneers in Community Service at the Cripple Creek/Victor High School.

The Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Co. donated $10,000 for a supply of hand-held radios.

With 60 deployable members plus a canine unit with three handlers, Smith, Gayle Humm and Barbi Atkins, TCSAR is fully equipped to find the lost or misdirected.

In the recent search for mountain biker Alicia Jakomait, TSCAR’s Josh Friesema and Mitch Walma, are credited with locating the biker near Knight’s Peak. “We found her first!” Smith said.

When a teenager disappeared last month from Memorial Park, Smith dispatched a unit to begin the search; however, the teenager showed up on her own. To date, the police have not released any information regarding the case.

For people going out in the wilderness, Smith, who teaches survival classes, recaps age-old advice, including the one about being prepared. “Leave an itinerary with friends and family,” he said.

Take extra clothing and do not depend on the cellphone to call for help, he added. “A GPS is good to have; but I do recommend they carry an FRS, family-receiver radios, which our team members carry, in scan mode,” Smith said. “We can actually do a directional finding on them.”

The latest good news for TCSAR is its selection as the only Teller County nonprofit to be included in this year’s Indy Give! campaign that runs online from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31. “Our goal is to raise $15,000 to add to our building fund,” said Janet Bennett, Smith’s wife who also does public relations. “We’re hoping all of Teller County will donate to the fund.”

Smith was badly injured in an automobile crash on May 10 at exactly 9:33 a.m.

Released from his wheelchair, today Smith wears a boot on his right foot. “I’ve had three major surgeries and have a cadaver’s heel on my foot now,” he said.

After 37 years as a member of a search and rescue, in Virginia before moving to Teller County, Smith is determined. “I plan on working the dogs and everything else,” he said.