Vermont State Police response falls short, rescuers charge

Levi Duclos

Levi Duclos, 19, died on Jan. 9, 2012, on the Emily Proctor Trail in Ripton. Photo courtesy of the Addison Independent

A responsible hiker, hunter, angler or backcountry skier brings along a cell phone and appropriate gear, and lets his family or friends know where he’s going and when he’s expected back before heading into the wilderness. If he doesn’t make it back at the appointed hour, his family can call 9-1-1 and report that he is missing.

Nineteen-year-old Levi Duclos of New Haven followed those reasonable precautions when he took his dog for a walk on the Emily Proctor Trail in nearby Ripton on an unseasonably warm January day. A 2010 graduate of Mount Abraham High School in Bristol where he’d help found the Environmental Club, Levi spent a year hiking in the western United States and in Nepal, where he also taught English in a small mountain town. He started studies at Reed College In Portland, Ore., in the fall semester of 2011 and was home visiting his mother, brother and friends over winter break.

His concerned family reported Levi as a missing hiker at 8 p.m.

Vermont State Police did not search for Duclos that night as temperatures dropped to zero, nor did they call any of Vermont’s qualified first responders or search and rescue organizations to do so. Mid-morning the following day, they found his body just three miles up the popular, well-marked trail.

An experienced outdoorsman, Duclos must have known that plummeting temperatures meant he was in mortal peril. What he and most Vermont outdoors recreationalists probably didn’t know is that in most areas of our state, the odds are that if you’re missing in the woods and your absence is reported to the state police, no one will come looking for you until morning.

And morning can be far too late.

According to Vermont State Police press statements, Levi Duclos suffered a broken leg and dragged himself down a portion of the trail prior to his death. Other witnesses from the recovery scene have called into question whether Duclos had suffered outward injuries; an autopsy has been ordered but the results have not yet been released. Toxicology reports are pending.

The cause and timing of Duclos’ death is not yet publicly known. However, a rapid response improves the odds of recovering any missing person alive.

Time is of the essence

In any search and rescue call, time is of the essence, says Howie McCausland, an EMT with Bristol Rescue Squad who has participated in the rescue of hikers injured on Bristol Cliff trails. The urgency increases in the cold.

“People die of exposure even on what we think of as warm days. Body temperature only works within a narrow range. The brain malfunctions if the body temperature drops even a few degrees,” McCausland says. “I experienced this once myself when I overturned a canoe in cold water. I got stupid, as stupid as if I’d up-ended a pint of tequila.”

For hiking incidents where Vermont State Police have jurisdiction, there are not likely to be boots on the ground until the next day, possibly 14 to 16 hours after the person was reported overdue.”

Injuries can compound the impact of hypothermia, creating a downward spiral. “Somebody lying in the snow on a cold night with an injury is a situation as time-sensitive as that of someone suffering from internal bleeding,” McCausland says.

Even if the person is not injured or in danger of hypothermia, a prompt response can mean the difference between life and death.

“The more time that goes by, the worse it is for them and for us,” says Maine Search and Rescue Commander Kevin Adams of the Maine Warden Service. “The more time that passes the further away they can be.”

In Vermont, response time for a missing hiker can be within a couple of hours if the incident is called in as an injured recreationalist, because local fire departments and first responders are dispatched for a report of an injury. Response times may also be swift if the call is made in towns with municipal police and municipal search and rescue teams like Stowe or Colchester.

For incidents where Vermont State Police have jurisdiction, there are not likely to be boots on the ground until the next day, possibly 14 to 16 hours after the person was reported overdue.

“Generally our response is at first light the next morning but that’s based off the information on the missing person,” says Lt. Robert Cushing, an investigator at the St. Johnsbury state police barracks and team leader of the Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Unit. State police generally don’t conduct a physical search at night “because ultimately it could be a criminal investigation. A good example of that is Brooke Bennett, who was reported as a missing person and it turned into a major criminal case. And also there’s risk factors for searchers.”

Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Unit

Cushing describes 9-1-1 search and rescue calls as “just like any other incident.” When someone calls 9-1-1 in Vermont for an overdue recreationalist or any other kind of missing person, a trooper contacts the person making the report and completes a lost person questionnaire. That trooper’s supervisor reviews the questionnaire and formulates a plan.

If that plan involves calling the Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Unit, Cushing engages in further evaluation. “When I get the call I assess the situation and assess what they have for information. We have search urgency guidelines that we go by. We look at the factors. Is it a missing child? Is it an Alzheimer’s patient? We look at the person’s background for factors that indicate that a situation is urgent, and we assign a number to it based on these factors. Low number means lower urgency, lower response.”

Cushing is a former K9 handler who has been team leader of Search and Rescue for three and a half years. “My day job is to supervise investigations in the St. Johnsbury area. The other hat I wear is as team leader for Search and Rescue. That’s how all our special teams are, we wear multiple hats. We have 20 guys and gals on the team that are sergeants and troopers in their day jobs.”

If the response analysis numbers warrant it, Cushing calls out his team members directly. There are 18 Vermont state troopers assigned to the Search and Rescue Unit, but “because we wear two hats, if I want to call all 18 members of the team, you might get 10,” Cushing says. “They may be on vacation, or out, or may just have two troopers on and not be able to come. Obviously there’s a delay in response. If I get a call at night, I’m up here so if we have a response in Bennington you have to add travel time so it’s a couple hour response time a lot of the time.” Since the troopers assigned to the Search and Rescue Unit are all over the state, “the biggest thing with the way it’s set up is that the resource is spread out.”

The usual extended delay in response time of the Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Unit was not the primary reason that a ground search for Levi Duclos did not occur on the night of Jan. 9, however. The Search and Rescue Unit could not possibly have engaged in a timely response that night because they were never informed that Duclos was reported missing. The New Haven barracks of the Vermont State Police did not notify the Search and Rescue Unit until shortly before going off-shift at 2 a.m. Vermont has no state police coverage from 2 a.m. until 7 a.m.

“I was notified of Levi’s case at 1:30 a.m. by the New Haven barracks,” said Cushing. “I can’t comment more, it’s an open investigation. We had formulated a plan to go out the next day.”

Available resources: No reason not to go

The Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Unit is not the only resource upon which the New Haven barracks could have called to assist in the search for Levi Duclos. The Emily Proctor Trail traverses the Breadloaf Wilderness area of the Green Mountain National Forest, connecting with the Cooley Glen and Long Trail to form a popular 12-mile loop that lies in the towns of Ripton and Lincoln. Both towns have first responders associated with their fire departments, staffed by volunteers who are intimately familiar with this terrain from hunting, hiking and rescuing dozens of other lost or injured hikers. Had the call come in as an injured hiker rather than an overdue hiker, these two entities would have been the primary responders.

Emily Proctor Trail sign

A trail sign in the Green Mountain National Forest.

“We heard about it on the news as did the rest of the town,” says Ripton first responder team member Ed Sullivan, an employee of Middlebury College. Ripton was never officially notified that there was a missing hiker, nor were they requested to participate in his recovery.

“Vermont State Police called us at 1 or 2 (p.m.) the next day to help in recovering Levi’s body,” said Dan Ober, chief of the Lincoln Fire Company and director of the Lincoln first responder team.

Had Lincoln first responders been dispatched to respond to an injured hiker in the area, they would have had boots on the ground in short order. “When we get a call, we meet at the fire station with our gear, find whatever information we can about the last sighting of the people, and set up a plan. We can have a team ready in the evenings or weekends in a half hour,” Ober said. “During the day, when people are gone to work, it might take a little longer as we have to call people in from adjoining towns. We’ve sometimes called on Bristol Rescue or other adjoining rescue squads or fire departments.”

The failure to call on skilled, available assistance does not sit well with the first responders. “There was no reason not to go that night. It was a clear night and relatively warm. The state police had the resources available but decided not to go until the next shift, which starts at 7 a.m. We have the resources here, and we are volunteers, so it’s not even a monetary thing,” Ober said. “We would have loved to go up. Everyone in this town is upset about it.”

Ober’s distress is shared by Mike Cannon, a Colchester police officer passionately dedicated to the Colchester Technical Rescue team, a municipal organization similar to Stowe Mountain Rescue with an emphasis on waterway and woodland search and rescue. Colchester and Stowe both have memorandums of agreement with the Vermont Department of Public Safety to provide search and rescue aid, and can have teams on the ground in most areas of the state within two or three hours. Like Ripton first responders, they were not called until state police required aid in recovering Duclos’ body.

“I’m pretty upset that this kid died. We debriefed afterwards and we were all shaking our heads,” Cannon said. “This has been a stomachache for us since we went down there. Had we been called on this, we would have gone right out. We got called the next day, well after the fact.”

Colchester Technical Rescue could have been on the ground in short order, Cannon said.

Stowe Mountain Rescue and our team do a fair amount of missing people searches and in all kinds of weather, late at night, rain, sleet, and if you do it right, you minimize the risk.”
Mike Cannon
Colchester Technical Rescue

“If the call had come in here in Colchester, we would organize and go,” Cannon said. “Our normal response may not be to send 14 people up the trail immediately but we’d send two guys out on a hasty search. Stowe Mountain Rescue and our team do a fair amount of missing people searches and in all kinds of weather, late at night, rain, sleet, and if you do it right, you minimize the risk.”

Conditions the night of Jan. 9 were far milder than Colchester Rescue often faces.

“That night, it was 28 degrees at my house and got to the single digits on the mountain, but it was a beautiful moonlit night, with a clear sky, the stars were out. It would have been a great night to be out there,” Cannon said, “not the kind of conditions we usually are facing because mostly these calls come in during rain or snow or sleet.”

Vermont State Police did not call Stowe Mountain Rescue to search for Duclos, nor did anyone call the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), according to Matt Fraley, the Addison County CERT team director and member of the Vergennes Fire Department. CERT, the volunteer team formed as part of a national Homeland Security effort, is available to assist any law enforcement or emergency management entity in Vermont, and has ground teams in every county.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife wardens are also available to participate in any law enforcement function including search and rescue.

“We cooperate when requested by the state police but they are the ones deciding what services are required,” says Corporal Dave LeCours of Vermont Fish and Wildlife. “We’ve always been a willing participant in search and rescue when called on, and our wardens have intimate knowledge of the ground and land navigation skills.”

State police did not request the assistance of local game warden Dale Whitlock, an Addison County resident who is well familiar with the area’s woodlands and mountain trails until the morning following Duclos’ disappearance.

“They did page me a bit after 6 a.m. the next morning, but I was at the police academy down in Pittsford at the time,” Whitlock said.

While state police did not call on any outside resources to search for Duclos the night he was reported missing, Cushing, the state police Search and Rescue unit team leader, credits those resources with making search and rescue in Vermont work.

“I do think that the present situation works as far as search and rescue goes in Vermont, as long as we have these outside interests assisting us,” said Cushing. “We couldn’t do what we do without them. The problem is we don’t see a lot of people asking to help.”

Other entities, however, say that the Vermont State Police has rejected offers of additional help.

“Some years ago I took the NASAR (National Association for Search and Rescue) three-day training class they held here in Vermont, and I was very interested in learning more about search and rescue and acquiring whatever certifications were required to get involved in that. I’m an avid hiker and fisherman so it interested me,” said Bristol EMT McCausland. “But I later came to understand that the Vermont State Police has sole jurisdiction and didn’t want or need civilian personnel because they said people would just be messing up the tracks and interfering with them. So I just gave up.”

The Vermont Outdoor Guide Association, a nonprofit professional association for fishing and hunting guides, horseback and dogsled outfits and a spectrum of recreation tourism resources, had similarly approached the Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Unit some years ago, requesting that VSP join its annual meeting to discuss how VOGA’s backcountry-savvy members could be of use in search and rescue. Their offer was dismissed out of hand, according to VOGA director Gray Stevens, with VSP advising that they were simply unqualified and unnecessary.

“It’s risky to send people into the woods who aren’t trained,” Cushing said. “Everyone wants to help and find the person and complete the mission. But you don’t want people getting hurt.”

How other states find missing outdoorspeople

Vermont’s reliance on state police for backcountry search and rescue is somewhat unusual. Only a small handful of states name their state police, who are usually assigned to highway patrol or specialized crime scene investigation, to the job of finding missing hunters, hikers and climbers, according to Howard Paul, public information officer and member of the board of directors of the National Association for Search and Rescue. County sheriffs are the most common lead agencies for search and rescue in Western states.

In neighboring New Hampshire and Maine, state Fish and Game agencies are in charge of finding lost outdoorspeople.”

Regardless of who is officially the lead public agency, search and rescue is primarily a volunteer function throughout the country. “The vast majority of states have agreements with nonprofits,” Paul said. “In Western states it’s probably 100 percent, and in New Mexico and Alaska even though the state police are officially in charge there, they rely heavily on nonprofits to do the legwork of search and rescue.”

In neighboring New Hampshire and Maine, which have similar terrain and experience tourist and outdoor recreationalist use similar to Vermont’s, state Fish and Game agencies are in charge of finding lost outdoorspeople. They do so with the assistance of a host of skilled nonprofit entities.

In Vermont, despite the Green Mountain National Forest dominating the woodlands used for recreation in the state, there is virtually no federal assistance for search and rescue.

“In search and rescue our most common contribution is local knowledge of the land and trails,” says Steve Burd, USFS zone supervisor for the Allegheny, White and Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests. “We provide maps and advice as to the trail locations and conditions. Other employees, the people who build and maintain the trails, are called in. If we get called the officers can reach out to the recreation or timber staff to share their knowledge of the land.”

Federal law enforcement officers – all two of them — can occasionally take an active role in a search. “On the Green Mountain National Forest, we have two law enforcement officers, one in Rochester and one in Manchester. We also have one criminal investigator,” Burd says.

In 2011, National Forest personnel assisted in 12 search and rescue incidents, as well as aiding in the aftermath of tropical storm Irene. Unlike national parks, which are staffed by large numbers of park rangers, national forests have minimal personnel. Despite the shift in national forest use over the last 20 years from predominantly timber resource extraction to a multi-use recreational resource, law enforcement staffing levels have not been altered.

In many cases of people lost on the Green Mountain National Forest, federal officials are not even notified. “In the case of Levi Duclos, we were called the next morning, the morning of the 10th, by both the Department of Public Safety dispatcher and a game warden who I believe was on scene,” Burd says.

The federal government does pay the state police and several Vermont sheriffs’ departments for patrol services in National Forest areas, and has a cooperation agreement allowing Vermont State Police to use motorized vehicles in wilderness areas in life-or-death situations. Although the national forest attracts scores of outdoor recreationalists to Vermont, the U.S. Forest Service makes virtually no contribution to funding Vermont search and rescue efforts on the National Forest.

The VSP mandate

In the end, Vermont State Police maintain primary control over most lost recreationalist incidents in Vermont. This is because the search and rescue function is not only legislatively mandated, according to Cushing, but the raison d’être of the Vermont State Police.

“A Bennington College student went missing, and that’s how Vermont State Police arose,” Cushing says, referencing the disappearance of Paula Jean Weldon, who was last seen on an afternoon walk on the Long Trail outside Bennington in December 1946. Paula’s wealthy industrial engineer father in Connecticut, William Archibald Weldon, hired in Connecticut State Police as private investigators when Vermont’s local sheriff departments failed to find his daughter. The Connecticut State Police, joined by New York State Police and later FBI agents, also failed to locate Paula, but Weldon’s bitter complaints to the Vermont Legislature tipped the balance in favor of parties who had been advocating for development of a unified statewide policing agency. Despite the creation of the Vermont State Police a few months later, there was no trace.

Paula Weldon was never found.

The notion that search and rescue in Vermont has been mandated as the exclusive province of the Vermont State Police is not necessarily supported by a reading of the statutes, however. “Law enforcement is usually mandated for missing people in Vermont, but it’s not that clear,” said Cannon. “You have to take a close look at the statute and have to interpret it.”

The authorization statute creating the Vermont Department of Public Safety merely directs the department “to participate in searches for lost or missing persons.” The state missing persons statute imposes additional duties on the state police in regards to fulfilling Amber Alert and federal reporting requirements and allows the commissioner of Public Safety to assume lead agency status on any “missing person” case, but the definition of “missing person” to which this applies is restricted to children and people with mental or physical disabilities who cannot be located, and does not include overdue recreationalists unless they happen to meet this definition.

Other entities in Vermont do have authority to engage in search and rescue. The state Aeronautics Board, for example, is designated as the lead agency for search and rescue of persons lost in airplane accidents.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife wardens have “the same law enforcement authority, duties and power as state police, sheriffs, constables and municipal police,” according to their authorizing statute. Thus if the state police are charged with participating in the search for lost persons, Fish and Wildlife wardens are equally charged with the same duty. The dispatch of state police rather game wardens or other entities in calls of missing recreationalists appears to be more a matter of procedural fiat than statutory mandate.

While the Vermont Department of Forest Parks and Recreations’ Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan 2005-2009 indicates that significant increases in outdoor recreation activities in Vermont, and calls for further increases in a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities, it makes no mention of the increased incidences or costs of emergency medical and search and rescue response to match that increased use. U.S. Forest Service planning and evaluation documents also reflect increases in a wide variety of recreational uses of the Green Mountain National Forest lands, with no plan for the funding or additional services needed for injured or lost recreationalists.

“Someone needs to take a real hard look at this,” said Mike Cannon of Colchester Technical Rescue. “When a call comes in, is it a missing person, like a law enforcement situation, or someone in need of rescue? New Hampshire and Maine for backcountry rescue mandates the warden service, and those people spend a lot of time in the woods. It’s frustrating. Fish and Wildlife are far better suited to do outdoor search and rescue. Other states have figured it out.”

Comments

  1. Dean Pierce :

    Fine article, Cindy. Unfortunate that it stems from such a tragic circumstance.

  2. Tina Weaver :

    Very sad! This boy might have been saved and a terrible tragedy could have been avoided. Vermont needs a better plan of action for missing hikers and others. It should be left to the people that know are wooded areas not the State Police.

  3. Michael Kruger :

    What a tragedy.

    If nothing else, this incident should serve as a vivid reminder that winter hiking involves many inherent risks to personal safety. Naturally, the risks can be reduced, but only when the winter hiker ventures out well prepared to spend a night alone in sub zero temperatures.

  4. Connie Godin :

    Excellently researched. VT Digger can be counted on for that. Thanks Cindy (and Ann G).

  5. Aaron Hawley :

    Somebody has to shake the bugs out of the VSP New Haven organization.

  6. Ted Hobson :

    This was a stirring, well-researched piece. There is no excuse for failure to disseminate the report of this missing hiker in this age of communications.

    The apparent disregard for this young man’s life appears reckless. The report was essentially treated as frivolous until it was too late. Who would not go immediately organize a search party for a loved one or neighbor under these circumstances?

    The State should immediately implement an online database of missing persons with automatic notification to emergency responders, so this tragedy is never duplicated. The cost of that database would be minimal, and would eliminate the possibility of this tragedy being duplicated in the future.

  7. Ben Jervey :

    What a tragedy. About 10 years ago I worked for his dad, who also passed away a few years back. Such an incredible family, dealt such unfortunate blows. My heart goes out to Levi’s mother, Ann, who has had to endure so much.

  8. Margo Howland :

    Excellent article Cindy! I hope this tragedy results in better utilization of available search and rescue operations and lessons learned for the New Haven barracks.

  9. Fritz Langrock :

    Cindy,

    Excellent article. I hope it leads to better ways of dealing with search and rescue.

  10. George Ely :

    The death of Mr. Levi Duclos is a serious loss to the community and the greater world in general. The fact that he was hiking in the Vermont woods when they are not at their most hospitable speaks to his strength and resourcefulness.

    The State Police are not to be criticized for following procedures – I don’t think. The process is at fault. That we are we are hidebound by rules and regulations is symptomatic of a greater weakness. Rules and process are in place to guide behavior but they require will on the part of the adherent to be effective. What seemed to be lacking in this tragedy was the fundamental notion of public safety. Putting public safety first, before process, may have saved Mr. Duclos’ life. We become so enamored of our structures that we forget that they are there to serve our intentions, not the other way around. I think common sense should have told someone in a position of responsibility that, since Levi had not returned, he must be in distress (disabled is the parameter the police quoted). Even if we don’t know the individual is disabled (broken leg), are we so destitute as a state that we cannot afford to expend capital to search for a man?

    My solution would be to have the legislature remove the responsibility for search and rescue from the Vermont State Police and turn it over to individuals who are ready, willing, and able to perform this most basic task – looking out for each other.

  11. Michael Morgan :

    A well done article, with one notable error. Dave LeCours is not a Corporal, he’s a Colonel, and Chief Warden of the VT Fish & Wildlife Department.

    This incident should be the impetus to remove jurisdiction for search and rescue from the Vermont State Police. VSP has too many other responsibilities and is spread too thinly throughout the state to be able to make S&R a priority.

    Vermont should follow the example of Maine and New Hampshire
    and make Fish & Wildlife the lead agency in S&R. New Hampshire provides an excellent example of a state F&W agency that works closely with local paid and volunteer fire, EMS, S&R, and other emergency services to do S&R. NH F&W provides the leadership, organization, and planning, and the other agencies provide the trained manpower, including technical rescue, snow, rock and ice climbing, swiftwater, etc.

    One important advantage that Fish & Wildlife has is that unlike VSP troopers who get transferred around the state, most Game Wardens have the same district for their entire careers. They know every trail, mountain, swamp, field, river, and back road in their districts, and they spend a lot of time in the outdoors. VSP troopers, focused on crime, tend to spend their working hours where criminal activity is likely to occur; where people are, not out in the woods.

    An overdue hiker is not a “missing person” in the usual law enforcement sense, he or she is someone who must be presumed to be lost or injured and requires an immediate response. VSP has neither the resources nor the organizational mindset to be the lead agency for such responses.

  12. Bill Pitkin :

    My son spent a lot of his college vacation hiking the trails of Addison county, and your article terrifies and infuriates me, Cindy. VSP failed and a great kid died. I don’t care if they followed their procedures while Levi froze to death. I don’t care about their historical mandate. I second Michael Morgan’s call to turn search & rescue over to Fish and Game officers who are familiar with their turf and competent out of their cruisers. In the meantime, if my son doesn’t return from one of his hikes, I certainly won’t depend on the State Police to save him.

    Thank you for frightening me and informing me Cindy and vtdigger.

  13. Christian Noll :

    I agree with Aaron and Ted,

    The Vermont State Police must impliment an automatic emergency notification system to ALL POTENTIAL RESCUERS, ASAP and at the point of recieving the call.

    Parents (or those conserned) must not stop at calling just the police these days. Keep calling every other 911 type of number you can if the police can’t do it. Especially at 8pm on a winter’s night.

    I spent a good part of my youth in Bristol and New Haven Vermont. I attended Mt. Abraham in Jr. High School and Beamen Academy. There are plenty of locals, completely familiar with their own terrain, (Lincoln and Ripton area) who would be motivated beyond glory, to spend a clear night out on the trail in the company of others, if they knew it might save a life. Its what many others in our country share and makes those Addison County Vermont people special.

    But without notifying them, how would they know?

  14. Peter Conlon :

    Every volunteer fire department, first response squad in the area would have been out on that trail in minutes. That the system did not alert them is a travesty, and a fine young man perished. The family did the right thing – call 911. Little did they know that the report would be given so little regard. Hard to imagine this won’t end up with a well justified law suit,and a big payout by the VSP.
    The anger of first responders in the area is understandable.
    This story needs a bigger audience.

  15. Stephen Fitzpatrick :

    Tragedy is inherent aspect of this world. Try as we may with volumes of data to fix the problem,lay the blame, implement the solution, nature retains her wildness.
    We seek out these solitary adventures to explore the deeper recesses of our beings. The mystery calls, as wind beckons you onward, whispering through the trees.
    I am touched by an adventurous young man giving up his body, engaged in activity dear to his heart.
    May we all meet our final stage doing what we love.

  16. Phyllis Alberici :

    What a senseless waste of a young man’s life. When anyone is overdue in the woods by several hours with no communication, it’s cause for alarm, no matter the time of day/night. The fact that VSP will now engage in some dance moves worthy of Fred Astaire will not surprise me.

    Vermont’s arcane system and VSP’s failure to follow their own procedure, combined with an inborn need to micro-manage, resulted in a cluster that turned into a fatality. It was only a matter of time.

    I am aware that there are flaws in Vermont’s emergency response infrastructure, some based on the rural volunteer nature of the state, but there is no excuse for not looking to other state policies where jurisdiction over remote rescue is handled by fish and wildlife, local law enforcement and local fire departments working in tandem.

    Time to make VSP an adjunct to a well-developed system and not the big game.

    This was a well-researched and well-written article. Thanks for that. And, lastly, my heart goes out to the parents of this young man. My son often hikes alone in Vermont. Not anymore.

  17. Leslie Pelch :

    I’m not sure that who is in charge needs to change so much as that the VSP needs to invite other search and rescue agencies to help. I understand their hesitation to create a free-for-all of enthusiastic S&R groups tromping around the woods (I’ve seen that happen at ski areas) BUT there is no reason that VSP can’t have agreements with S&R groups so that when they are invited to participate VSP is still in charge of the search.
    Although I agree with the one posting above that says in essence that we go out into nature to actually experience nature (and the thrill of the inherent risk), this tragedy could have ended so much better if a few prepared people with headlamps and a cell phone had hiked 3 miles up a trail. Let’s all remember to tell someone where we are going when we head out, too. Avoidable tragedy is the worst kind.

  18. Brad Braun :

    As a rule local first responders have accumulated numerous hours of quality training to deal with a situation like this. They are available to respond within minutes of a call.
    In such a case it should be up to the chief of the local department to assess risks and organize a well thought out search and rescue operation. If a situation arises that could create a hazard to those responders or if a possibility that a crime has been committed then it would be up to the chief to request more professional backup to take over. VSP should be the link to the appropriate group to be notified. Team leaders of Vermont’s local responders do have this skill level to organize an appropriate first response.

  19. Lynn L :

    I am horrified about the entire event. I believe it should be talked about Never in my imagination did I think that the Constables or any authorities in the local towns were never called by the VSP. My how things in that agency have NOT changed in over twenty years… there is protocal then there is humanity. Levi did nothing wrong.

  20. Ruaidhri O'Cruadhlaoich :

    Levi Duclos – RIP

    Such a sad commentary on VSP “attitudes” not so much “regulations” about a missing human being. 8PM call, 1:30AM transfer the call, 2AM-7AM off duty, etc. It sounds like a lot of excuses for not caring about a missing person immediately.

    I agree with others that VSP should not be the first responders for people missing in the woods – a search and rescue situation. VSP has too much on their plate to do it right and quickly as we’ve witnessed more than once. The legislature might consider fixing this soon.

  21. Paul Gauthier :

    Good article but I’m left wondering two things: if Levi had a cell phone as the article implied why didn’t he use it? Was he out of signal range? And what happened to his dog?

  22. john burton :

    I am a businessman. If the state police employees who fielded and handled the Duclos’ missing person call worked for me, they would be fired. Period. They’re lucky they are not facing criminal charges.

  23. Dennis Kelley :

    Fish and Wildlife should definately take the lead, that being said, it may not get a faster response than the VSP
    has given, due to Homeland Security protocals, now being intertwined in all agentcies, vsp, city police, fire, ambulance etc. even volunteer groups like CERT. AND Especially
    F & W. Wardens. Also, now a days at any type of “crime scene”
    your apt to see vsp, border patrol, sheriffs, Game Wardens,
    and other represented agencies all at the scene, which makes me wonder how they can do thier respective jobs well
    when they are at these “crime scenes” not doing thier normal
    jobs

  24. This was an unfortunate and unnecessary tragedy and it appears that there may have been some lapses in the VSP response, which is – because of budget restraints – understaffed and overworked.

    As a Wilderness Search & Rescue (SAR) Specialist, I appreciate both the need for a timely response and the importance in many cases of highly-trained search leadership. SAR is an art and a science, and there are algorithms developed from decades of research to indicate search priority and probability of behavior of various missing person types.

    A young, healthy, highly-experienced outdoorsman familiar with the terrain does not generally constitute a high-priority search, in the way that a missing child or elderly person would.

    Additionally, very few first responders (who are wonderful at assisting in searches) have the necessary training to conduct a careful search, avoid obliterating tracks, scent and other clues, and determine that an area has been sufficiently ruled out or where to extend the search based on typical lost person behavior (which varies dramatically depending on demographic).

    I have worked with VSP on many searches and have found them very proficient at search leadership, and most of our searches were at night (which is actually better for air-scent dogs and not a problem for trained resources). However, if the agency-having-jurisdiction cannot initiate an immediate response, there is no reason not to notify a local emergency response agency to perform a hasty search, particularly if the missing person was known to be on a specific trail. That was the fatal error in this instance.

  25. Wesley Miller :

    Levi’s dog had stayed with him until the rescuers found Levi’s body. If only he had barked. Sadly he’s not like that.

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