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December 20, 2014

Cold case unit gets help from local search and rescue team

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Posted: Friday, June 6, 2014 4:55 pm | Updated: 5:03 pm, Fri Jun 6, 2014.

Calhoun County’s lone urban search and rescue team has a new mission — helping cold case investigators unearth evidence.

Twice in the past month the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit, made up of investigators Rachel Israel and Max Kirby, has called on the team for help. First, it was to explore an old well in Piedmont in search of the body of a missing man, and then a week later to search a well in Bynum for the gun used in another old homicide case.

“You hope that the work you’re doing will help bring the desired results so that family can have that closure,” said Chris Roberts, commander of the Calhoun County Medium Rescue Team.

The team didn’t turn up any evidence in either of the unrelated cases, but members’ training makes the team uniquely qualified to perform the types of tasks the investigators need help with, Israel said.

“They did their job very well,” Israel said. “They are very thorough.”

The team, made up of Anniston and Jacksonville firefighters, specializes in using pulleys, harnesses, supports and other tools to rescue people from tight or hard-to-reach spaces like collapsed trenches. In mid-May team members were called on to work their first cold case.

The crew gathered in a wooded area near Piedmont and prepared to descend into an old well about five feet across. Foot-by-foot the team dropped into the old well in search of Jeffrey McFry, last seen at his mother’s Piedmont home in 1990.

“Once they realized our capabilities, they quickly called us for another well,” Roberts said.

The second search took investigators to the Bynum well, where the team was called on to search for the gun authorities say was used to shoot Diana Bussey, who was killed at age 21 while working at a convenience store in 1993. The team pumped out 20 feet of water before reaching the soupy bottom of the well, Roberts said.

Once down, Roberts, the team member who finished the search, said he dipped his arm into the quicksand-like soil and used metal detectors to search for the weapon, but found only rocks.

“It’s down-and-dirty work,” Roberts said.

Kirby and Israel said even though the team found no evidence on those two cases, the cold case unit will call on its members to help out the next time a well or a confined space proves too challenging to explore using typical means.

Before the unit knew about the team they used heavy equipment to dig down to the base of wells. In the two recent cases the unit didn’t have the option of using heavy equipment.

So, they sought an alternative option. That’s when a dispatcher put them in touch with the team.

“We had to think of another way to do it,” Kirby said.  

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