LITTLE ROCK — The violent flash flood in west Arkansas that killed a sheriff and a wildlife officer as they tried to rescue two women forced the men to make a series of split-second decisions that no set of regulations can anticipate, the chief of enforcement for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said.
Rain from storms May 30-31 fell in such volume that the runoff washed away houses and other buildings. Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Wildlife Officer 1st Class Joel Campora were attempting to save two women from a home eventually ripped apart by the flows. A review has so far found the men responded appropriately to the threat.
Carpenter and Campora were somehow swept into the waters they traveled by boat to the scene near Y City along the raging Fourche LaFave River. Both officers died, as did both women, Vivian Sue Reimer, 65, and Regina Kay Shearn, 60.
The leader of the Game and Fish Commission's enforcement division, Col. Jack Crow, said Friday before Campora's funeral that the battle with the water was like facing a dangerous suspect.
"It's almost identical to a use-of-force encounter where they have incomplete information and they have a situation that is unfolding rapidly and they have to make snap decisions and hope they are making the best one to achieve a safe, tactical, legal, professional outcome," Crow said.
"It's just one of the strange paradigms of law enforcement work," he said.
Carpenter and Campora were hailed as heroes by their agencies and members of the public. Gov. Mike Beebe ordered flags to be flown at half-staff on Wednesday, the day of Carpenter's funeral, and again on Friday, the day of Campora's service, noting their bravery and heroism.
Crow said agency policies are geared toward keeping the public safe, which can put officers at risk.
"They understand that sacrificial service that it takes to be able to do your job well. Joel certainly understood that," Crow said.
Game and Fish officers are investigating the deaths. Crow said he's gotten no indication that any policies had been violated. Because the investigation remains open, Crow couldn't go into detail about what happened the day the men died but said they were up against a natural event that was too enormous for them to control their fate.
"It was a force of nature. It was a formidable foe that morning. It sure was," Crow said.
Officials said it appeared that Carpenter and Campora were first to the scene and were among those responding to a tremendous crashing sound that some people at the scene thought indicated a bridge had washed away.
The sound was of a house imploding.
It's unclear what the investigation will reveal about how the victims met their deaths. Campora's body was found about a mile downstream from where Carpenter and one of the female victims were found.
Crow said it was gratifying to see the work of other wildlife officers during the search.
"Our officers, from the very moment this happened, began searching for Joel and the other victims of this tragedy. And they searched diligently all the way up until the time they found him Sunday morning (June 2)," he said. "And it was our officers that found him. That was our desire that our officers be the ones to find him and return him to his family. That was very important," Crow said.