Divers find ‘treasures’

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Lake Meade and Lake Prince in Suffolk are becoming virtual &uot;lost and found&uot; sites, and if you are looking for a stolen item, it may pay to check with local law enforcement considering the list of items recovered from the waters this week. Your bike, Isuzu Trooper auto, or &uot;whatever&uot; might have been lying at the muddy bottom of the lakes, just waiting for some highly trained dive master to bring it to the surface of the sun-glistened waters.

At least, that was the case this week as the Virginia State Trooper Dive Team sought to certify six new team members. Once certified, they will be among the best in the Commonwealth, having completed their actual &uot;test&uot; dives in Suffolk’s Meade and Prince lakes.

Email newsletter signup

According to 22-year-veteran First Sergeant Mike Berry, Police Dive Team training coordinator for Virginia State Troopers, the six divers earned their dive team insignia helmets the hard way. They actually dragged up more stuff than is imaginable from beneath Suffolk’s murky lakes.

As divers slipped like slick, black seals into the waters of Lake Mead, the heavy gauge wet suits and flippers helped them glide effortlessly through the dark water bringing up a variety of objects including a Honda motorbike that proved to be wanted.

&uot;At Lake Meade, we were just beneath the bridge that crosses Route 604 (Pitchkettle Road) when Trooper Jason Dickerson from Fredericksburg, found the dirt bike,&uot; said Sgt. Berry. &uot;We ran the VIN (vehicle identification number) and found that it was stolen. Probably by kids who took it for a joyride, then ditched it to keep from being caught.&uot;

The sergeant said it’s nothing to find an item like a dirt bike. In fact, on average, the State Police Dive Team annually recovers more than $350,000 worth of merchandise.

&uot;We also average 14 body recoveries, 12 murder weapons, and about 40 other assorted weapons,&uot; said Berry. &uot;We also find about 14 vehicles a year.&uot;

Normally, the troopers notify local jurisdictions and let them know they’ve recovered an item. Local law enforcement then assumes possession of the items.

&uot;In some instances, dive teams don’t even mess with notifying the jurisdictions,&uot; said Barry. &uot;We (state police) do it because it’s a piece of a puzzle and it can help solve a crime, or at least contribute to the police officers’ investigation. It at least pinpoints the location where the thief may have disposed of it. That one piece of evidence may help solve a crime.&uot;

The divers also found several paper boxes, 18 from Lake Prince alone, and another three in Lake Meade.

&uot;Thieves will pick them up, take them somewhere hidden and bust them open and then dump them off, said Barry. &uot;Lots of bridges have paper boxes beneath them because, unfortunately, they are so easy to carry off and dispose of.&uot;

At the Lake Prince dive site, at least one .12 gauge shotgun was found along with other items. As Berry noted, there are so many unusual items discovered, it’s difficult to pinpoint the most unique.

&uot;We find everything from bodies and cars to safes and guns,&uot; he added. &uot;If it can be stolen and dropped off a bridge, or dropped into a body of water, we have found it.&uot;

Barry said the State Police Dive Team is most active in the state simply because they make the most dives, covering every county in the entire state. The Department maintains fully equipped and highly qualified scuba teams throughout Virginia. Each team is trained in the techniques of underwater rescue, search and recovery. In 1999, the state police scuba teams recovered the bodies of 5 drowning victims, 9 weapons, 3 of which were murder weapons, 4 vehicles and retrieved property valued at over $80,490.

Activities at Lake Prince commenced the final week of the seven-week school for the six new divers. Prior to joining the dive team, they had to be certified and that required the special dives.

To become a candidate for the team, a trooper must have at least two years experience as an officer, and they must also pass a rigorous physical fitness test.

Berry said that he and other state dive team members work with the Suffolk Police Underwater Recovery and Dive Team whenever needed. In January, the Suffolk dive team saved the life of a little boy who had slipped beneath ice in a holding pond.