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Time to Revise Bethlehem Policy

We have no doubt that Bethlehem police officer Rusty Jewell was, as he told our reporter, simply following department policy on Monday afternoon when he dropped Moundsville resident Frank Ott off at a gas station in the village following a traffic accident. Ott, 85, was coherent, according to Jewell and a manager at the station, had been cleared by EMTs who treated him at the scene, and had called family members for a ride home.

Ott didn’t wait for that ride, though; instead, for reasons we don’t yet fully understand, Ott walked away from the station. He went missing for nearly 24 hours, and was found wandering along a creek near the Interstate 470 ballfields early Tuesday afternoon by search-and-rescue crews. Ott is fine, and was transported to WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital as a precaution.

Two issues come into play here: first, why was Ott dropped off at a gas station, and not taken somewhere such as the village offices in Bethlehem to wait for family members? And second, the efforts by a multi-county group of law enforcement officials and volunteers to locate Ott in a relatively short amount of time is commendable.

We’ll start with the second: sheriff’s deputies from Ohio and Marshall counties, along with West Virginia State Police, Department of Corrections workers and numerous volunteers, quickly mobilized to search for Ott. Ohio County Sheriff Tom Howard and county Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo took over the Bethlehem fire department, setting it up as a command center. Searchers used drones to scour heavily wooded areas; a helicopter was brought in to help cover ground. The work illustrates just how well our county agencies come together when the need is there. Everyone involved in the search deserves a “Thank you.”

Now back to the first issue: The Bethlehem Police Department needs to address and revise its policy on matters such as this. Hindsight always is 20/20, but we all can agree Ott should not have been left at a gas station, particularly following a traffic accident. Not taking that extra step of ensuring Ott made it home led to a very trying 24 hours for family members and the search teams. The department needs to address this issue as soon as possible.

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