Two divers from the Benton County Dive Team — arrested and released this morning — forcing the immediate suspension a highly used rescue service.
The Benton County Dive Board called for an emergency meeting to discuss the fate of one of Northwest Arkansas’ most trusted rescue teams.
Fox 24 was the first — and only local television station — at today’s emergency meeting.
Through last month, the Benton County Dive Team had responded to 12 water rescues in 2017. That’s two more than their yearly average.
Beginning immediately, however, there will be a new team responding to water rescues at places like Beaver Lake.
“The board voted to suspend the current Benton County Dive Team to respond to any dive related incidents,” said Major Robert Bersi, a member of the Benton County Dive Board.
James Downum and Chris Perry will face theft of services charges. Their court date has been set for September 11.
“The dive team does not fall under the sheriff’s office, that’s why the sheriff’s office did the initial investigation,” said Sergeant Shannon Jenkins, the spokesperson for the Benton County Sheriff.
“We will be moving to discussing with the quorum court on attempting to move the dive team back under the control and immediate direct supervision of the sheriff’s office,” Major Bersi said.
Tri-County dive team will pick up where Benton County left off. Currently, their coverage area consists of Madison, Newton and Carroll counties. In addition to the Tri-County dive team, the Benton County Sheriffs Office will also use their own boat, dive and sonar services in case of an emergency.
“Tri-County Dive team has a very function team and a well trained team and has worked with us in the past so we will have dive-related response utilizing Tri-County’s team so we will not have any interruptions with any services that we can offer to the citizens of Benton County,” Major Bersi said.
Major Bersi said both Downum and Perry willingly turned themselves in this morning. The investigation has since been turned over to the prosecuting attorney’s office.