Campanalla, Bird discuss recent rescue at Rotary

Oktibbeha County EMA Director Kristen Campanella speaks at the Starkville Rotary Club's meeting Monday. Campanella and Starkville Fire Department Battalion Chief Stewart Bird discussed their roles in a search and rescue operation at the beginning of the month. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Staff Writer

The Starkville Rotary Club had the opportunity to learn about a recent search and rescue operation from one of the people closest to it at its meeting Monday.

The club hosted Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency Director Kristen Campanella to discuss the missing person rescue in Clay County earlier this month. Starkville Fire Department Battalion Chief Stewart Bird also discussed his role in the rescue as deputy task force leader of the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security Central Search and Rescue Task Force.

The incident began with a 911 call in the early hours of July 5, when Victoria Hudson dialed 911 from her vehicle, which was stuck in a creek off a private road in southwest Clay County. The call spawned a large search involving several agencies from counties as far away as DeSoto. Hudson was eventually found walking along the same power line being searched by crews and was reunited with her family on July 7.

She described EMA’s role in the rescue operation, first trying to communicate with Hudson and send deputies to rescue her before beginning full-fledged search-and-rescue operations.

“The call came in at 3:40 (a.m.), she advised us that she was in her vehicle,” Campanella said. “She was very calm. She said she had run off the road due to terrain. She was in a ditch. Her car had lost power. With her different scenarios, we have protocols for every call. We were asking her if she could lay on her horn so the deputies could hear her, but the car had lost power so there was no way for her to let anybody else know where she was.”

Through all her communications with officials, Hudson was adamant about being located on Harrell Road near Douglastown in Clay County. However her vehicle was later found approximately 14 miles away near the Cedar Bluff
community. While trying to find her way back from the crash site, Hudson sheltered in deer stands to stay out of the elements and at times was forced to drink creek water. Campanella also said the search was aided by the use of tracking via her cell phone. However, it took some convincing to get the cell phone provider to give the coordinates.

“As the time went on, this young lady decided to depart her vehicle and start walking,” Bird said. “Well, that creates an issue for us. That’s where we are. Some of us do have the expertise of searching. These days, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Throughout the task force, we have a lot of different people we can get ahold of.” He said the task force called in experts who put several factors together to try to determine where Hudson went from her vehicle. He also said he had begun to worry about her welfare, factoring in the hog and snake-infested woods and the July heat.

“In 85 percent of the cases, they’re going to tell us right where to search and right where we’re going to find this person,” Bird said.“We’re in 3,000 acres of fields and woods. It’s very wooded down there, lots of hogs, lots of snakes, so it just creates a problem trying to find her.”

The team searched the areas for two and a half days before she was found outside of the prescribed region.

“Lo and behold, she’s in the 15 percent, she goes in the direction that the average person’s not going,” Bird said.

Campanella also discussed the EMA’s general mission and urged everyone to have a kit set aside in case of a major incident.

"As you know, disasters will continue, Campanella said. “They’re not prejudiced. We don’t know when it’s going to happen but it’s coming. The biggest thing we want to stress to everybody is just being prepared for that.”

The kit should include at least three days of food and drinking water, a whistle, area maps, a flashlight and extra batteries, dust masks, a first aid kit, moist towelettes, a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, a battery powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA weather radio and batteries for both and a can opener, if using canned food.