For their joint efforts in searching for a missing elderly woman, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) has announced the selection of Sgt. Travis Ash of the Baker County (Ore.) Sheriff's Office and Senior Trooper Christopher M. Hawkins of the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division as its Officers of the Month for May 2008.
As popular as survival television programs have become in recent years, surviving in the wilderness is a dangerous and potentially fatal experience. When someone is reported missing in the vast forests of Oregon, law enforcement and rescue agencies deploy every asset to recover that individual. The urgency is even more heightened when the missing individual is an elderly female.
On August 24, 2007, Ora Doris Anderson, age 76, and her husband Harold planned to spend the day, as they had often in the past, in the Oregon wilderness camping and hunting. Their plans were cut short when their vehicle became stuck in mud. In order to get help they had no option but to walk back down the road they had just driven along. After hiking several miles Mrs. Anderson became tired and decided to return to the vehicle to rest, while her husband continued on.
After Mr. Anderson was found by hunters the next day, they returned to the vehicle. However, Mrs. Anderson was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Anderson was reported missing and officers from the Baker County Sheriff's Office established search teams and monitored all roads in the area for any signs of the missing woman.
Within two days, search and rescue units from across the area were involved in the search. Rescue squads from Union County and K-9 officers from Wallowa County as well as 25 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service combed the Bennet Creek area. Day after day law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and more than 40 volunteers battled the heat and the rough terrain in an effort to locate Mrs. Anderson.
On the evening of the fifth day, the Yamhill County Search and Rescue's scent sniffing dogs were brought to the area. They searched night and day for hours on end, but on Friday, August 31, 2007 the search was officially called off.
Determined to find Mrs. Anderson, several members of the Baker County Search and Rescue team and Baker County Sheriff's Office volunteered that weekend and continued searching the area. Their desperate pursuit throughout the weekend yielded no results.
Thirteen days after Mrs. Anderson was reported missing, Sgt. Ash and Senior Trooper Hawkins resolved to search the area one last time. Although the Bennet Creek area had been searched thoroughly, the officers knew the area to be extremely steep and covered with thick brush. One last look could do no harm. As they approached the area, they heard a flock of birds rustle and someone talking. They had located Mrs. Anderson, alive and conscious.
Surviving on water from the creek and eating what few berries she could find, Ora Doris Anderson survived 13 days in the Oregon wilderness. She was suffering from malnutrition, dehydration, and exposure. She was transported to the hospital where she was stabilized and then flown to a hospital closer to her family. After six days of recovery, Mrs. Anderson was healthy enough to return home.
Although nearly 50 law enforcement officers, search and rescue personnel, firefighters, scent tracking dogs, and volunteers had spent hundreds of man hours searching, Mrs. Anderson owes her life to the persistence and dedication of Sgt. Travis Ash and Senior Trooper Christopher Hawkins.
On December 27, 2007 Ash and Hawkins were awarded the Oregon State Police Harold R. Berg Lifesaving Award. Sgt. Travis Ash has been serving the law enforcement community for 12 years. He is married with two children. Senior Trooper Christopher M. Hawkins has been serving the law enforcement community for 10 years. He is married with two children.
Located in the nation's capital, the NLEOMF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of America's law enforcement officers. The NLEOMF Officer of the Month Program began in September 1996 and recognizes federal, state, and local officers who distinguish themselves through exemplary law enforcement service and devotion to duty.
The NLEOMF Officer of the Month Program is sponsored by a generous contribution from THE FORCE.