Franklin County officials sold on SARbot

Franklin County officials got a sales demo Monday of a new device that could recover drowning victims' bodies more quickly, or even help rescue victims of near drownings.

Now they just need to raise $90,000 to buy the high-tech SARbot shown off for them in the Clover Island lagoon. SARbot is a robot designed to scan murky river water using sonar and video to search for a body.

The robot, which is remotely controlled by a power stick, moved over the water until it reached the point near where a dummy had been sunk. Then it sank below the water as the operator watched on a computer screen while the SARbot looked for the victim.

First, all it found were barrels on the river bottom.

But a minute later it found the dummy and slowly came to the surface with it in its mechanical claw.

County Sheriff Richard Lathim said the robot could put an end to a family's wait sooner. In May, a family had to wait nearly a week until workers could find the body of Pedro Valentin Javier, who drowned at Scootney Reservoir.

"It could mean a quicker recovery of a body and peace of mind for families," Lathim said.

The SARbot, which stands for Search and Rescue Robot, also could be in the water quickly to begin looking for the victim, according to Jesse Rodocker, with San Diego-based SeaBotix, who ran the demo. He said the robot can be set up in less than five minutes and takes just two people to operate.

Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel said SARbot also could save lives. Cold water temperatures often found in the Mid-Columbia mean people can survive near drownings if they get to a hospital quickly enough.

As one of the people who works with the families while rescuers search for their loved ones, Blasdel also thinks the robot could find some victims before it's too late. And he wants bodies recovered sooner so relatives and friends can move on.

"If we could save one life with it," Blasdel said. "If you could (recover) a body in one day instead of a couple of days -- a family has closure."

Lathim said several area counties might be able to get together and share the cost and use it for searches in the region. Blasdel said he will look at grants and fundraising to pay for a SARbot.