New sheriffs' vehicle

From left, Walla Walla County Sheriff Mark Crider, Tom Watson, Danny Freeman, and sheriff’s crime analyst technician Mike Moses stand in front of the sheriff’s new armored vehicle.

A “new,” armored vehicle became part of the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office arsenal this week thanks to two community members.

Tom Watson Sr., owner of Watson Properties, Inc., said he and Danny Freeman, owner of Premier Motors in Milton-Freewater, met with Sheriff Mark Crider for lunch and offered to split the bill to have the vehicle shipped to Walla Walla. The 28,000-pound Oshkoh all-terrain vehicle arrived Tuesday and now sits in a garage at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds, Watson said.

The department, explained Crider, only had to pay to either ship the vehicle — for nearly $6,000 — or have someone fly down and retrieve it from Texas.

The estimated cost to drive it back to Walla Walla was about $2,000, Crider said of the military vehicle worth at least $470,000. It was free courtesy of the Department of Defense, he said. The bill to drive the M-ATV from New Boston, Texas, would have included airfare ($400), lodging ($450), meals ($400) and fuel ($1,408).

Walla Walla County commissioners had approved the out-of-state travel request, but Crider said he was debating whether his office could afford the trip or the shipping costs.

Watson said he heard of the situation and wanted to help.

“I grew up really poor,” Watson said. “Now I love giving back to the community … If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”

Crider said the vehicle was needed to replace the agency’s decommissioned, obsolete armored vehicle that was “too big and cumbersome to be as effective to de-escalate a situation.”

The new vehicle is smaller and has greater mobility. The M-ATV also has no weapons on it, except for those carried by deputies or other agencies, he said.

“It enables us to get close in to dangerous situations without putting anyone at risk,” he said.

Crider said he was glad they were able to obtain the M-ATV basically for free and also recently purchased a surplus pickup for $1, also courtesy of the DOD.

“I think it’s being fiscally responsible,” Crider said.

Besides that, the vehicle only had about 4,000 miles on it, he said, so it was “practically new.”

The National Defense Authorization Act allows the DOD to temporarily transfer excess items — particularly for counterdrug/terrorism enforcement — to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

The now-decommissioned vehicle will be returned to the DOD, and the new one will remain on permanent loan with the Sheriff’s Office unless it is needed by the DOD.

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.