Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Insider--the Colorado Sheriff's Office

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.

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: , and if you’d like to order an autographed copy of Deadly Currents, go to the website for Black Cat Books ( 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 and her blog at

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.


  1. Sounds fascinating, Beth. You have done your homework! I look forward to reading the new series.


  2. Wonderful idea. I am looking forward to this series.

  3. Welcome Beth! Beth is on a marathon blog tour--and I'd love to hear how it's going! Is is grueling? Rewarding?

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone! I really enjoyed interviewing Keith Pinkston. He's friendly and laid-back, but he really knows his stuff. I enjoy that part of my research, picking people's brains and learning new things. :)

    The blog tour is both grueling and rewarding. I really enjoy talking to folks in the comments. (Remember, every comment is an entry into a contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents!) However, staying on top of the logistics is a headache--creating & editing posts, finding photos to go with them, sending them, promoting them once they're up, checking with hosts when something goes wrong, etc., etc.

    It would be okay if that's all I'm doing, but I'm also arranging and promoting an ambitious in-person event schedule, talking to reporters, editing a Claire Hanover mystery, and trying to find time to design a new bookmark and get a new email newsletter out! But the effort is worth it. I'm really proud of this book, and I want as many people as possible to find out about it and read it.

  5. The characters, setting and details sound fascinating.
    I admire you for all the time and effort in your research to make your novel so real.
    Donna V.

  6. Very interesting to see how this Sheriffs department works. And this article points out the importance of not relying on old research when placing a book in a new setting. I didn't realize the departments could vary so much from state to state, and I will keep that in mind if I ever decide to place a book in another state besides Texas.

    Thanks, Beth, and enjoy the rest of your tour. Keeping up with you when I can and it has been a good series.

  7. I can't wait to read the book! I came across this blog a few weeks ago and have been reading it every day-- to my delight (and dismay) I've come across some great new authors who write series I've not read before--so I'm VERY excited to get aquainted with new characaters, BUT my list--it keeps growing and growing. I need to quit my job and just stay home and read! I'm so excited tho, to fall in love with Colorado now!

  8. Got to love that soaring imaginary murder rate!

  9. Beth, your book sound great and I can't wait to read it.

    Info on the sheriff's office and blog tour is very helpful. I agree, you sure did yourhomework.

    I wish you a bestseller.

  10. Hi Donna, Maryann, Debbie, Sheila, and Pat. Thanks so much for your comments (and contest entries)!

    Don't you just hate it when an author gets something wrong in a book? That's why I try so hard to get things right.

    Since I use real settings versus made-up towns, I think it's really important to visit the place and to talk to local experts. I'm glad you're enjoying my VBT articles!

    That growing TBR list is a definite side effect of hanging out with authors and author blogs. I read about a book a week, and my list keeps on growing!

  11. Reality is so different from all the television shows, isn't it? I've been in communication with the Teller County LEOs for accuracy in my WIP. The Writer's Police Academy provided more information--whereas in Orlando, the SWAT commander who was helping me with my research said their callouts run close to 200 a year, the North Carolina SWAT officer said it had been years since he'd been on one.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  12. Wow Beth. This is so interesting! First off, I have rafted the Arkansas River (through Browns Canyon and the Royal Gorge) and it was a thrilling ride! Loved it, loved the area, loved staying in Salida. This was many years ago, and now I want to return. Secondly, I am shocked that all the deputies don't wear vests. I worked for the Sheriff's Dept in San Diego, and even as a civilian officer (community service officer) we wore vests. I hope they get more funding for all the items they need.

  13. Beth, your book sounds fascinating. Too bad I can't get my husband to read a BOOK--he loves that part of Colorado and white water rafting. (He only reads techie stuff on the internet.) But I can read it and tell him about it :-)

    Good luck on your virtual tour!

  14. Hi Terry, Linda, and Deborah,
    Thanks for your comments!

    After what you said, I don't think I'd want to live in Orlando!

    I've enjoyed rafting Browns Canyon and Royal Gorge, too, but I also enjoy the somewhat gentler Wildhorse Canyon and Big Horn Sheep Canyon runs. Yes, it's a shame not all the deputies have vests and hopefully that will be rectified with increased funding.

    Maybe your husband can download the ebook onto his computer and read it there. ;-)

  15. Love Colorado and the book sounds great! Please enter me!

    pocokat AT gmail DOT com

  16. This book sounds like the adventure I need and can still be at home with my kids. Can’t wait to read it!

  17. Beth,

    I'm wondering if, as a writer, you ever decide to ignore a fact or two that you've learned from your research so that you can create a more dramatic scene.

    Love learning more details about your research!

  18. Hi Pococat, Christy, and Kari,

    Thanks for your comments (and contest entries)!

    In answer to Kari's question, I did decide to move a county line a few miles in the second book of the series, Wicked Eddies, and I'll put that decision in the Acknowledgments. I made the change because the ideal campground for Mandy to find a dead fly fisherman's body in is not in Chaffee County, but the one next to it. And I wanted Mandy to work with the same Sheriff's Office detective in the second book. So yes, I have stretched the truth, but I try not to. :)

  19. Interesting post. Our county is rural and when bodies need autopsied they are sent four hours east of us.

  20. This sounds like a book I'm really going to enjoy. I lived for several years in Jackson Hole, WY - skied in the winter, rafted in the summer!! I enjoyed the "tour" of a rural sheriff's office"!!

    pennyt at hotmail dot com

  21. HI, all, thanks for chatting today! It's such fun to meet new poepe...and Kari, I love our quesitn about "changing facts." I always worry about that. I changed a bit of Boston geography in my new book, and it's worrying me..

    Linda, I just did a story for TV about the aging vests our state troopers are wearing--our investigation found they were out of date...and as a result, the state bought them new ones! Very happy.

    Beth, you're amazing!

  22. Thanks for your comments, Lisa and Penny!

    Pueblo, CO, where Chaffee County's bodies get sent for autopsies, is about 2 hours drive from Salida, so I guess they're better off than your county!

    I loved Jackson Hole when I visited one summer many years ago. I'd love to go back!

    Thank so much for hosting me here at Jungle Red Writes. I really enjoyed it, and I'll be checking for late comments tomorrow. On to Working Stiffs tomorrow!

  23. There is so much variety in the way police departments in different areas carry out their duties. Beth shows how a good writer does the research necessary to get it right.

  24. It's interesting to read about how a rural sheriff's office works. My baby brother is CSPD, and as a family member, it seems like I hold onto anything that helps me feel he is safe (i.e. VESTS!). It sounds like a river guide has an interesting life in so many ways. I'm enjoying reading about this whole different world outside my realm of experience.

  25. Thanks for your comments, John and Shannon,

    You both made interesting points, and you're both entered into the free book contest.