Monday, January 5, 1998
Search fails to find officer
Rookie fell into river during foot chase

BY JANE PRENDERGAST
The Cincinnati Enquirer

walkway
A Covington policeman walks past where Officer Mike Partin fell Sunday from the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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COVINGTON, Ky. - A young Covington police officer disappeared into the Ohio River before dawn Sunday during his last dispatch, trying to help an other officer catch a fleeing man on the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge.

Officer Mike Partin, 25, was the third Tristate officer to die on the job in 30 days, but the first in Covington in almost 30 years.

His colleagues suspect that as he rushed to the scene in the dark, Officer Partin simply did not notice the break between the bridge's roadway where he parked his cruiser and the walkway where the chase was under way.

He jumped over a concrete barrier and fell an estimated 90 feet into 36-degree water. Officers are trained in what to do if they fall into water, but not at heights so great into water so cold.

mates
Mike Partin
The accident devastated Northern Kentucky's largest police department.

''We're pretty much still in shock, as you can imagine,'' Assistant Chief Lt. Col. Bill Dorsey said Sunday afternoon, his awake-since-3 a.m. eyes welling with tears. ''We haven't worked through the process of grieving and anger.''

By 7 a.m. today, searchers had not found the spot where Officer Partin's body - weighted down with an extra 20 pounds of gear including a protective vest, gun belt and other equipment - lay under the water.

What happened
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Dogs trained to search for cadavers found the spot, officials said, as did a sonar check. But the officer's body had not yet been retrieved.

Already Sunday night, police supporters began leaving flowers and other mementos at the Northern Kentucky Police Memorial in Covington, at the foot of the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

river
Covington Police Sgt. Tom Epperson, left, and Officer Roy Sims scan the Ohio River Sunday for their colleague.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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The chase involving Officer Partin ended in the arrest of a 20-year-old Cincinnati man, Shawnta Robertson. He had started running from Kenton County Police Officer Brian Kane, working overtime as part of a state traffic enforcement program, when the officer stopped him on West Fourth Street for a traffic violation.

As Officer Kane tried to arrest him, Mr. Robertson allegedly ran away. The officer called for help and three Covington officers, including Officer Partin, responded. Officer Kane was able to subdue Mr. Robertson, apparently just as Officer Partin fell from the bridge.

Mr. Robertson was charged with driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. He was out of jail by Sunday afternoon but was expected to be in court today.Investigators talked with representatives of both the commonwealth's and county attorneys' offices about the possibility of adding charges because the chase resulted in an officer's death.

A decision had not been made Sunday, said Lt. Col. Dorsey.

Finding body difficult

As officials notified Officer Partin's family and began their investigation into what happened, search crews continued to use a hooked bar to drag the river bottom. Even though another Covington police officer pinpointed the spot where Officer Partin fell in, finding remains is difficult, said Mike Wise, chief of Campbell County Water Rescue.

boats
Searchers look early Sunday at the bridge.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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A body can sink 40 feet in less than two minutes. With the water so cold, he said, it could take weeks for it to resurface.

The search dogs picked up on the scent of a human body just west of one of the bridge's piers. Crews based their search from there, concentrating downriver in a semicircle with a 30-foot radius.

''They're running into a lot of problems just dragging it,'' Chief Wise said, referring to the river bottom being littered with debris and trees. He estimated the water's current at 3 to 4 mph.

Even lowering a diver can be fruitless, Chief Wise said, because light is lost 10 feet below the surface. ''In a situation like that you can't see anything anyhow, so you've got to use your hands to sort through,'' he said. ''It's like a blackout.''

Crowds had gathered by dawn Sunday along both sides of the river to watch the rescue effort. Helicopters hovered; boats circled in the water. Private boat owners helped, too.

1st death since 1968

Until Sunday, the Covington force hadn't lost one of its own since July 1968, when Donald Ronnebaum was hit by a truck while he was directing traffic on Interstate 75.

dorsey
Covington Police Lt. Col. Bill Dorsey reflects on the loss of his officer.
(Saed Hindash photo)
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Officer Partin's death marked the ninth for the department since 1869, when City Marshal John T. Thompson was killed near the foot of the suspension bridge.

But it was just a month ago today when the Cincinnati Police Division lost officers Ronald Jeter and Daniel Pope, both shot by a man the two were seeking on a domestic violence warrant. He killed himself shortly after shooting the officers.

Two other Covington officers also responded to help Officer Kane. Though Lt. Col. Dorsey would not identify them, he said one of them saw Officer Partin fall. All three surviving officers talked to a psychologist Sunday morning.

Sunday's events marked a role reversal for the two departments - Covington officers had been among the many who attended the Cincinnati visitations. Now they were the ones who need support. Cincinnati police spokesman Lt. Tim Schoch said his department would give back exactly the kind of help it got last month.

The Bailey bridge is named for a Kentucky newspaperman who died in 1974. It was built that year to relieve some traffic clogging on the Brent Spence - Interstate 75-71 bridge. Construction workers put a new superstructure on pre-existing piers.

The bridge has been the sight of several falls and suicide attempts over the years, most recently during the Labor Day Riverfest celebration. A Hamilton woman fell from the concrete barrier onto a support beam about 20 feet below, the same beam on which Officer Partin's flashlight was found Sunday morning. Athena Robbins, 25, cut her chin and legs, and waited 90 minutes to be rescued.

Quick offers of help

The only positive sign officers could find as darkness lifted Sunday morning was the outpouring of help from all over Greater Cincinnati. Boats, search dogs, police officers and firefighters came out from all over Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Up walked deputy jailers, Salvation Army disaster workers, a priest. They all patted police officers' backs and shook their hands.

''We couldn't ask for more support,'' said Assistant Chief Steve Schmidt.

As rescue workers searched the water, Steve Embree of Florence watched from in front of the Waterfront restaurant. A secretary at Mercy Hospital Anderson, he left work at 8 a.m. after listening to scanner traffic about the fall.

''Just right on the heels of what happened over in Cincinnati,'' he said, gesturing across the river and wiping tears from his face. ''It's just too much.''

Laura Goldberg and Gregory A. Hall contributed to this report.

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