Special ops team uses armored car, a canine, flashbang grenades to take down 'fugitives'
By Ryan Cornell
FRONT ROYAL -- A dark green Jeep Grand Cherokee pulls into a parking lot. Riding its bumper is an armored Lenco BearCat truck, its lights bright and its sirens blaring.
Six special operations officers in combat gear approach the jeep and hurl a flashbang grenade. One passenger in the jeep gets out and makes a run for it. He's swiftly taken down by a German Shepherd, which latches onto his arm. The other passenger opens his door and is pinned to the pavement by one officer.
Had this particular scene taken place anywhere other than the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center in Front Royal and had a group of children not been watching intently, one might be witnessing the arrest of a dangerous felon.
The special operations team, a 10-member force that has partnered with the Sheriff's Office for 28 years, was demonstrating a vehicle takedown at the Warren County Sheriff's Summer Youth Camp on Wednesday.
Sheriff Daniel McEathron said he might deploy the armored vehicle in a situation involving hostages or barricades, or use it to travel to a house to arrest a felony suspect who might be armed.
"It is our tactical team special operations deployment vehicle," he said. "So when the tac team is deployed, it's for high-risk search warrants or a high-risk arrest warrant. So we're going after someone we believe may be violent or there's a potential for violence, then that vehicle is deployed."
The 10 officers picked for the team go through a rigorous selection process. They use the truck anywhere from three to 20 times in a year.
The BearCat was purchased in 2010 and cost $278,000 -- provided through a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. McEathron said the truck, which uses a Ford F-550 engine, can reach speeds of 75 mph and travels at an average of six miles per gallon. It might not handle potholes well, but it can take its fair share of bullets and explosions.
"Obviously it isn't deployed to the full magnitude of what its abilities are sometimes," McEathron said. "But you don't want to show up light."
Because Warren County is the only squad in the area besides Loudoun County, Rockingham County and the Virginia State Police to have a vehicle like the BearCat, McEathron said they send it to any jurisdiction that requests the need for it.
Lt. Roger Vorous, usually the officer behind the truck's wheel, took a week-long armored truck driving course to learn how to operate it. He said the truck's run-flat tires measure 44 inches and, together with the wheels, cost $5,000 to replace.
Because the truck's windows can't be rolled down, McEathron said he experienced a unique problem while driving it back home from Lenco Industries in Massachusetts, where they purchased it.
"Going through the tolls, you had to reach out of the gunport to drop your change," he said.
McEathron said this year's youth camp, which ended Thursday, had 37 kids. The kids were all fifth, sixth or seventh graders mostly chosen through the Warren County public school system.
He said he started the camp in 2004 as an opportunity to mentor with the youth and get them more familiar with local law enforcement.
"So when they see us on the street later on, they're less apprehensive and don't have any barriers set up," he said.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org