Sheriff puts remote-controlled boat to the test

LEONVILLE, La. (AP) — A remote-controlled boat that can take sonar into areas too small for larger vessels has passed its first test.

The 6-foot-long boat — designed by a major in the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office — located a sunken pickup truck in 11 feet of murky water in Bayou Teche.

“After seeing this little boat maneuver in the bayou, I was impressed,” Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said Tuesday. “It is amazing what it can do.”

The truck had gone into the bayou a few weeks ago near Leonville, between Port Barre and Arnaudville. The passengers escaped unhurt, but the truck was lost.

Maj. Richard Williams, head of the sheriff’s fleet operations department, designed the boat — a 3-by-6-foot rectangular hull with a square “cabin” for the machinery and a trolling motor clamped onto the stern. Arnaudville area welder Lance Taylor put it together.

It’s designed to operate in small bodies of water such as ponds or in area with extremely limited access.

“It can be operated from the shore. I can control it with my iPad,” Williams said.

He said the truck’s location is now marked for state police, who are investigating the accident.

If they don’t want to retrieve the truck for their investigation, Williams said, the truck’s location will be turned over to the insurance company. If the insurance company doesn’t want it the location will be given to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for navigation on the bayou.

The boat’s sonar can record data from about 15 yards away.

Williams said it doesn’t give a clear picture of the bottom, but the image is good enough.

“It provides a general description of what’s down there. Nature doesn’t do 90-degree angles. If you see a 90-degree angle, it is very likely manmade,” Williams said.

He said the vehicle’s motor also has an “anchor” function that lets it stay above one spot regardless of current or wind.

“This is critical when a possible target has been located,” Williams said.

Williams said most of the components were purchased with a grant. “It cost us very little,” Williams said.

Guidroz has boat-mounted or towed devices that can see further and clearer. But they require larger bodies of water in which to operate.

This one, he said, can operate in inches of water, can maneuver where no boat can go and can return images of weapons or other items that a criminal may have tried to hide by throwing them in a pond, bayou or other body of water.

Guidroz said such search capacity is important with the parish full of bayous, coulees, lakes and more.

“I don’t know of another law enforcement agency in the state with something like this,” said Guidroz, who offered to share it with any law enforcement agency.

Williams said getting the device, called the SL300, to other such agencies would be easy.

It has its own covered trailer, complete with battery charger, launch ramp and deployment winch.

“This allows for the vessel to be launched directly from the rear of the trailer into the target water source,” Williams explained. “This also stores the vessel out of the weather during down time.”

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