When a suspected truck thief jumped into a Missouri lake to escape arrest, lineworker David Byrne plucked the drowning man from the water and delivered him to the local sheriff.
The drama began about 3 a.m. on March 30, when Byrne was awakened by a call from Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader. Byrne, a 14-year lineworker at White River Valley Electric Cooperative in Branson, was on duty and initially thought a co-op dispatcher was calling to report an outage.
“Doug told me, ‘Hey, I need your boat right away,’” said Byrne. “‘We’re pursuing a suspect who jumped in the lake. He’s out there, and we’re afraid he’s going to drown.’”
Rader, who is Byrne’s hunting and fishing buddy, knew the bowfishing boat had LED lights and that Byrne and his wife, Marlana, lived about a mile from the boat ramp, where deputies and Kimberling City police officers had gathered.
According to news reports, the suspect took off in a stolen truck after officers pulled up behind him. He then led officers on a chase down a state highway that dead-ended in the yard of a home on Table Rock Lake, where he ran from the vehicle and jumped into the water.
After the sheriff called, Byrne and his wife jumped out of bed, hooked up their boat and sped to the ramp. Marlana backed the boat, named “Lucy,” into the water. David, guided by Rader over the phone, found the suspect about 40 yards from shore.
“He was really struggling,” Byrne said. “I told Doug, ‘If I can’t get a deputy to help, this guy is going to drown.’ Doug told me: ‘Do what you have to do, but we don’t know if he’s armed.’”
Inching his way toward the flailing suspect, Byrne determined he wasn’t armed. He then hauled the waterlogged and weary suspect onboard and sat on his arms while steering the boat back to shore, where officers arrested the alleged thief.
“I don’t think he had much time left,” said Byrne, noting that water temperatures were in the mid-50s.
The suspect was charged with three counts of tampering with a vehicle and resisting arrest.
It wasn’t the first time that Byrne had been called on to use his boat to help local law enforcement. By his reckoning, Byrne has been asked by the local sheriff “two or three times over the years” to tow evidence from Table Rock Lake on the Missouri-Arkansas border.
“My dad was with the water patrol for 30-plus years, so I’ve always been around the police side of stuff since I was a little kid,” said Byrne. “But I don’t normally go chasing bad guys.”
Rader thanked both David and Marlana Byrne on Facebook. “I am humbled to call this man my friend. He is a true hero. As a citizen, neighbor and friend to a lot of people, he has always been there to step up and help. David went way above and beyond this morning with his heroic actions.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.