Dallas County Deputies Ready to Roll Out New Tool to Keep Them Safe at Wreck Scenes

The Dallas County Sheriff's Department is ready to roll out a new tool when working at the scene of major accidents on the highways.

It's called a "Scorpion Truck" – a large vehicle with a fold-out buffer that helps keep deputies safe, when they're at their most vulnerable.

The department recently purchased two Scorpion Trucks at a cost of about $180,000 each. One is being kept at a south Oak Cliff storage facility near interstates 45 and 20, and the other is near downtown Dallas.

Deputies say it's an investment in their safety, and also a way to get other first responders to clear from a wreck scene faster and allow them to respond to other emergencies.

Every night, Deputy Gary Aven is worried that the next big highway crash he works will be his last.

"I fear for my life every time, and for my partner’s life, every time we go out there on accidents," he said. "Especially at night time, when we have to put out those flare lines and make the scene safe, and you're standing out there on the highway while you got cars whizzing by you 70 or 80 miles per hour at a time."

For the last five years Aven has been assigned to the sheriff's department's Traffic Division.

He mostly works big pileups on the highways or deadly wrecks. He helps investigate the crashes, takes witness statements and contact information, and helps piece together the events leading up to the incident. The events he works sometimes takes hours to clear.

"Mainly I'm thinking about my safety," he said. "We're still in the danger zone. You got 3,000 pounds of metal coming at you, at 70 or 80 miles per hour."

Long before fire trucks or other secondary squad cars arrive, the first thing deputies have to do is lay down flares to set a buffer zone. On many wrecks, distracted drivers end up barreling through that buffer zone.

"It definitely happens probably a lot more than people think. Probably about every other accident at night, you have one or two cars coming through the flare line," Aven said.

The risks for first responders is very real.

Two years ago, veteran Dallas firefighter William Tanksley was helping a stranded driver when he was struck by a car and thrown off an interstate overpass. He fell more than 40 feet and died.

Fort Worth Police Officer Dwayne Freeto was also helping a driver when a drunk driver slammed into his squad car 10 years ago, killing him.

There are close calls every night.

"I'd say every night it'll happen – that you'll see cars going through a flare line. They'll either be nosy or distracted by their cell phones and not paying attention to what they're doing," said Traffic Division Deputy Joe Juarez.

The Scorpion Tucks also allow fire engines and other emergency vehicles to clear a scene faster.

"Once this truck gets out there, it can free up more squad cars to be back on the streets, it can free up the fire department to be back at the station ready for another call. It relieves a lot of people from having to come out here, they can be ready for more calls," Aven said.

Currently, just eight deputies are trained on the vehicle. The plan is to hold two classes every week for the next few months until another 100 Traffic Division deputies are trained, as well.

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