Missing toddler found after six-hour search

Thursday, July 8, 2010 ~ Updated 2:42 PM
Arkansas Forestry Commission Ranger Darrell Bohannan, (from left), Sheriff Bob Grudek, and Jason Morris, director of the Carroll County Office of Emergency Management discuss search strategy at a rural Eureka Springs home Wednesday. A command post was established after three-year-old Chase Lee Pickens wandered away. Anna Mathews / CCN

EUREKA SPRINGS -- There was a happy ending to a six-hour search for three-year-old Chase Lee Pickens, who was found safe and sound less than a mile from his home in an abandoned camper trailer Wednesday evening.

"They called his name, he popped up and put out his arms," reported a relieved Jason Morris, director of the Carroll County Office of Emergency Management. "He was happy to be found and everyone, absolutely everyone, including myself, was very much relieved."

The search began at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday when a teenage girl who was babysitting the boy called 911 to report him missing.

According to Carroll County Sheriff Bob Grudek, the boy had wandered away from his rural Eureka Springs home, located just off Rock House Road near its intersection with Ark. Hwy. 221 South, while the babysitter was asleep.

He said the boy's father, Kenneth Pickens, had awakened the sleeping teenage girl around 10:30 a.m. to say he was going to town. She apparently fell back asleep, Grudek said, and called authorities after discovering the boy was gone and she failed to find him herself.

Grudek said the Sheriff's Office alerted the Special Operations Rescue Team (SORT), which responded along with the Benton County Sheriff's Office with its helicopter, plus forestry personnel, game and fish officials, dozens of volunteer horseback riders and scores of area volunteers.

He said they searched in a grid pattern, expanding the grid as they went, and notified all neighbors in the area, asking them to be on the lookout and check their property and outbuildings.

Morris said it is his belief the property owner where Chase was found had been told of the search.

That property, he said, was situated along a private drive and contained a salvage yard with various junk vehicles.

It was Willy Alberson and Joel Walker who found the boy, he said, young men who were part of the Connie Deaton search team.

"They found him across Rock House Road, up a private drive, in a salvage yard, inside a camper trailer," he said. "It had no door and when they called his name, he popped up and they could see him."

Morris said young Chase was afraid to get on the four-wheeler the young men were riding because he had never been on one before.

Instead of driving him home, they walked him down the road where authorities had his father waiting, Morris said.

Secure in his dad's arms, young Chase climbed aboard and rode the four-wheeler back home, Morris recalled. It was there that the boy was checked out by paramedics at the scene.

"He was a little hot, a little dehydrated, but otherwise OK," Morris happily reported.

Sheriff Grudek said he was also thrilled to have a happy ending.

"It was great to have him found and to have him hug his dad," he said. "It was a happy resolution."

Grudek said he has questions he would like answered that will help authorities with future searches.

He said the boy was found covered in black, likely from soot.

"The vehicle he was in wasn't a burned-out vehicle so we are trying to determine where he had been," he said.

"We will follow up with questioning to help us determine what a three-year-old thinks and does when they wander away like that," he said. "This type of information will help us with future searches.

"He didn't want to talk to us at first so we have asked his dad to try to find out why he did what he did. And we want to try to talk to him once everything settles down."

Grudek and Morris both extended thanks to all who volunteered in the effort. Besides the agencies already mentioned, Morris said Smith Cycle of Green Forest contributed its four-wheeler fleet for the search, Johnson County officials responded with a search dog team, and County Judge Sam Barr was on hand to provide water, ice and transportation for the searchers. Oak Grove, Eureka Springs and Holiday Island volunteer firefighters came to help, along with Madison County Office of Emergency Management personnel, and the Mennonites -- a group that always responds to search through the brush on foot.

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