The Arkansas River, heart and soul of Salida, Colorado, fuels the small town’s economy and thrums in the blood of river ranger Mandy Tanner. When a whitewater rafting accident occurs, she deftly executes a rescue, but a man dies anyway. Turns out, it wasn’t the rapids that killed him—it was murder.
*** DEADLY CURRENTS
Hank: Beth Groundwater--one of the hardest working authors is the biz!--made me laugh with this topic. I'm nearing the end of a manuscript (crossing fingers) and looking for that one final twist--and I kept thinking--"I'm up the creek without a paddle."
And then Beth (whose new series stars a cool and fearless whitewater ranger who always has a paddle) suggested she write about her adventures putting together this story!
Ah, worlds collide.
Anyway--ever heard of "fourteeners"? or The Angel of Shavano? You can't make this stuff up.
How a Rural Colorado Sheriff’s Office Works
by Beth Groundwater
Deadly Currents, the first book in my new RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, takes place in rural Chaffee County, situated in the upper Arkansas River valley in central Colorado.
The county has about 17,000 residents in the winter. Most of them live in the small city of Salida, where my whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner lives, and in the two towns of Buena Vista to the north and Poncha Springs to the west, at the base of the Monarch Mountain ski area, where Mandy works as a ski patroller in the winter.
The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) headquarters building, where Mandy works spring-fall, is in downtown Salida, one block from the river.
The county population doubles in the summer when tourists and part-timers flood in. They scamper around the county, engaging in whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, fly fishing, off-roading, birding, horseback riding, antiquing and all the other warm weather activities the valley offers.
One fourth of Colorado's 54 "fourteeners," mountain peaks measuring over 14,000 feet in altitude, are located in Chaffee County.
One of those, Mt. Shavano appears on the patch of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s office.
The patch shows the “Angel of Shavano,” an angel-shaped area of snow that appears on Mt. Shavano each June as snows melt.
HANK: Oh, I found a photo of it. Cool
BETH: To learn how the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office operates, I interviewed Undersheriff Keith Pinkston, who is their lead detective. He is in charge of two other detectives in their small Investigations Division. He educated me on how their procedures differ from those I learned in El Paso County Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy, where I live. Because the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office has only three detectives, patrol officers conduct their own investigations of crimes, except when the crimes are major, such as murder.
Chaffee County averages about one murder case a year, though the detectives need to investigate many more unintended deaths, fatal accidents, and suicides to rule out murder. Their (imaginary) murder rate is about to soar!
Since the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office is small, they request outside help for many of the tasks associated with a murder investigation, and they are adept at coordinating with outsiders. They rely on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to process much of the forensic evidence they collect at crime scenes. They may call in the investigator from the District Attorney’s Office to help. And, they may request officers from the Colorado State Patrol to work with their detectives to solve major cases.
While the county has an elected coroner, he is not a forensic pathologist. So, if an autopsy is needed, the body is sent outside the county to the coroner’s office in the city of Pueblo, Colorado. This is what happens to the body of Tom King, the person Mandy Tanner pulls out of the Arkansas River in Deadly Currents, who dies on the river bank.
Keith Pinkston also explained how the Sheriff’s Office works with river rangers like Mandy who discover dead bodies in or alongside the Arkansas River, or who pull people out of the river who later die. While the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for investigating deaths, the river ranger(s) who are the “first responders” are a part of the investigative team. The river rangers’ primary responsibility is extracting the body from the river, but they also share information with the detectives about what they found, and they may testify in court.
Mandy Tanner has a personal stake in the death of Tom King, both because of her own involvement and the impact the case has on her Uncle Bill, so she gets tangled up in the investigation much more than river rangers usually do. Victor Quintana, the detective assigned to Tom King’s case, is willing to share information with her, because in Chaffee County, as in many rural counties, all of the law enforcement and fire/rescue personnel work and train together on search and rescue teams and become a close-knit community.
The vehicles the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office use are 4-wheel drive Ford Broncos (for frequent snowy or muddy road conditions) and Crown Victoria patrol cars. Every vehicle contains a rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun with lethal ammunition, and another one with non-lethal ammunition, all stored in brackets. Each deputy has their own patrol car.
Like many rural Sheriff’s Offices, Chaffee County’s constantly could use more funding. Only some of the deputies have Kevlar helmets and vests. And, the deputies are responsible for supplying their own sidearm, so there’s quite a mixture. They also carry shoulder radios, handcuffs, pepper spray, and either an ASP tactical baton or a TASER.
The Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office may be small, and on a tight budget, but the deputies I met there had a friendly, professional attitude and took their assignments very seriously.
What else would you like to know about how a rural Colorado Sheriff’s Office works? Or about how Mandy Tanner interacts with Victor Quintana, the detective assigned to Tom King’s case? Remember, everyone who comments will be entered into a contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents.
If you’d like to see what the other stops are on Beth Groundwater’s virtual book tour and what other topics are covered, go to: http://bethgroundwater.com/2011_Virtual_Book_Tour.html , and if you’d like to order an autographed copy of Deadly Currents, go to the website for Black Cat Books (http://manitoubooks.com/) and click on "Contact Us”. Either call the phone number or fill out the form with your contact information.
Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket, 2009) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, will be released March 8th. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. She loves talking to book clubs, too, and not just for the gossip and wine! Please visit her website at bethgroundwater.com and her blog at bethgroundwater.blogspot.com.
The Arkansas River, heart and soul of Salida, Colorado, fuels the small town’s economy and thrums in the blood of river ranger Mandy Tanner. When a whitewater rafting accident occurs, she deftly executes a rescue, but a man dies anyway. Turns out, it wasn’t the rapids that killed him—it was murder. Tom King was a rich land developer with bitter business rivals, who cheated on his wife, refused to support his kayak-obsessed son, and infuriated environmentalists. Mandy’s world is upended again when tragedy strikes closer to home. Suspicious that the most recent death is connected to Tom King’s murder, she goes on an emotionally turbulent quest for the truth—and ends up in dangerous waters.