Winter storm quelled crime in York, Chester, Lancaster counties – but not the need for help

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 15, 2014 

Snow quieted troublemakers in York, Chester and Lancaster counties for three days last week, but there was little rest for the men and women who carry guns and badges.

Winter storm Pax swept through the area last week, dumping as much as 8 inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain on the three counties. While police across the area reported significantly fewer crimes last week, they were kept busy helping folks stranded by the storm.

In Chester County, deputies took more than 80 people to hospitals and shelters, helped stranded motorists and checked on the elderly. In Clover, police officers rescued a 68-year-old man trapped in his bathroom as his home went up in flames.

At about 3 a.m. Wednesday, Clover police officers Aaron Snelson, 24, and Charlie Kennedy, 29, heard the call: “Structure fire in progress with a possible entrapment.” The house was on Winthrop Street, a one-minute drive from the police station. They rushed to the scene.

Kennedy said Friday he knew the family who lived there. The homeowner moved slowly because of health issues, including a tracheostomy, he said, and his wife was working the third shift at Walmart.

“My fear was that guy was inside the house and he was in there dying,” he said. “That was our biggest fear ... that that guy was in that house being burnt alive.”

They arrived to a house fully engulfed in fire, with flames shooting from the roof and smoke billowing into the air. The officers hurried to the back, kicking down the back door to go inside, Snelson said. Without padding or face masks, they got down on their hands and knees and began an “army crawl” into the burning home.

They made it about 10 or 15 feet.

“The smoke was just extremely heavy,” Snelson said.

They had to get out.

The officers began looking through windows, hoping to spot the trapped man inside. Finally, Snelson saw him in the bathroom, trying to get out through a window four feet from the ground. He grabbed the man, pulling until half of his body was hanging out. Snelson then grabbed hold of the man’s pants and pulled him to the ground.

The rescue took less than 2 minutes.

Snelson, who weighs 180 pounds, describes himself as a “little guy.”

“I guess adrenalin kicks in,” he said. “You don’t even pay no attention to it.”

After the officers freed the man from his home, they handed him off to paramedics, who took him to Gaston Memorial Hospital in Gastonia, N.C., where he was treated for smoke inhalation. He was released from the hospital on Friday. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

His son told police his father’s fireplace did not always work properly, according to a Clover police report. Firefighters with the Clover, Bethel, Bethany and York fire departments extinguished the flames. A fire investigation determined the blaze was accidental, starting near the fireplace. About 90 percent of the man’s house was burned. The fire caused about $40,000 in damage.

“No sir, never for a second,” Kennedy said when asked about thinking twice before running into the burning house – a first for both him and his partner. “It never crossed my mind.”

“There’s no time to think,” Snelson said. “It’s part of the job. You’re out here to protect and serve and save lives. That’s what it is.”

The fire came among 50 calls for help police received between Tuesday and Friday. Most of those calls were motorists needing help, police data shows. Police only arrested one man in that time, charging him with driving under the influence and drug possession.

“As far as hindsight ... I don’t feel any heroism,” Kennedy said. “We preserve lives. That’s just what we do. That’s just the bottom line.”

“You never know what you’re going to come across,” Snelson said. “You never know what actions you’re going to have to take.”

‘Busy since the snow’

Over the three days of Pax, Chester County sheriff’s deputies filed only 10 incident reports and no inmates were booked at the county jail. The incidents authorities responded to were not major, Sheriff Alex Underwood said.

One call was about shots fired, Underwood said, but “it’s hunting season.” Some residents reported stolen property.

For the most part, “it’s just been real quiet,” he said. “It’s like the beach. Everybody wants it to snow to get out and have fun. It’s a happy time for them ... to play in the snow, sledding.”

Throughout the county, residents rode four-wheelers on snowy hills and makeshift slopes. Deputies didn’t quash their fun, but they did encourage them to stay off of the roads.

“We’ve been busy since the snow,” Underwood said.

Much of that came from taking nurses and other employees to Chester Regional Medical Center so they could work. In the afternoon, they picked them up and returned them home. They did the same thing throughout the county every morning and evening until Friday night.

“We picked up people as far as Fairfield” and York counties, Underwood said. All told, deputies gave rides to 86 people.

But on Friday, as sunshine began melting much of the snow and ice on roadways, criminal activity picked up again in Chester when deputies briefly chased a man who would not stop when a deputy tried to pull him over for a traffic violation, Underwood said.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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