Date: October 22, 2001 "For Immediate Release"
To: News Media
From: Sheriff Lawrence W. Crow, Jr.
Media Contact: Michal Shanley, (863) 534-6631 or 819-0397 pager
PCSO Mourns the Loss of Pilot and Flight Officer

The Polk County Sheriff's Office is mourning the loss of a pilot and flight officer who were killed in a helicopter crash early this morning (Monday, Oct. 22, 2001).

Deputy Sheriff Pilot Brian Wilkinson, 33, of Lake Alfred, and Deputy Sheriff Flight Officer Larry Rhoden, 33, of Ft. Meade, were killed when their Sheriff's Office helicopter - a 1971 OH58 Bell Jet Ranger - crashed into a pond/pasture near Old Bartow Eagle Lake Road in Bartow (near Lake Hancock) shortly after 1 a.m. this morning. 

Earlier in the morning, the air unit - Air One - responded to the Eaton Park area of Lakeland to assist patrol deputies in a burglary call in which a possible suspect had fled on foot. After the arrest of three suspects, Air One cleared the call with dispatch at 12:58 a.m. The air crew's last transmission was a request from a patrol deputy at 1:06 a.m. to conduct a routine aerial patrol of the Florida Power Plant located at 640 and 555. Air One could not be reached at 1:11 a.m. when PCSO dispatch attempted to call them to respond to assist Winter Haven Police in a pursuit. Further attempts to contact the air crew were unsuccessful, and an aerial search was conducted.

At approximately 3:30 a.m., the wreckage of the helicopter was spotted from the air, and ground units responded to search for the crew. Both occupants were found deceased at the scene of the crash. The NTSB responded and assumed the investigation.

Wilkinson is survived by his wife and one-year-old son. He began his career at the Sheriff's Office in 1994. He joined the Aviation Unit in March of 2001.

Rhoden is survived by his wife and three sons, ages 6 to 13 years old. He was hired in 1991, and joined the Aviation Unit in January of 2001. Memorial services are being arranged, and will be announced as soon as
possible.

XXX
 

Distribution: Undersheriff, Division Commanders, Communications, News Media

A text only version of this release is also available.

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