Bexar County Sheriff’s Office finally unveiled its first patrol and rescue boat at Calaveras Lake in southeast San Antonio on Friday.
Sheriff Javier Salazar spoke to reporters in front of the 16-foot long, white 2005 Sea Fox boat, now customized with black and brown stripes and the words “Bexar County Sheriff Patrol/Rescue” on both sides.
“When I got [elected] to office, it was a big frustration for us to see literally every other sheriff in the state of Texas able to patrol every square inch of their county, whether it was on land or on water — and yet we couldn’t do that here,” he said.
“There’s no worse feeling for first responders than the hopelessness of wanting to help somebody in need and not being able to get to them.”
The unveiling of the boat comes over a year after the sheriff’s initial attempt to buy a boat became mired in a unique controversy that involved a former county commissioner, a coffee company, sexist slurs and a charitable foundation.
Earlier this year, Bexar County resident Javier Gomez donated the Sea Fox to the sheriff’s office; the boat is estimated to be worth about $20,000.
“I’m excited because it’s going to be used for a good cause instead of just sitting there doing nothing,” said Gomez, who attended Friday’s big reveal. “Hopefully it will save some lives.”
The sheriff’s office will work with the county’s 12 emergency services districts (EDS), which typically provide emergency medical services, rescue and fire protection services to areas outside of San Antonio city limits; that work includes water rescue services.
Representatives from the districts joined the sheriff at the lake Friday to showcase another boat, newly acquired for service district No. 10 — a smaller, but more nimble vessel for rapid water rescues. District No. 12 will soon add a similar boat to its emergency equipment, officials said.
Salazar said the districts and his department will share the use of all the boats. The Sea Fox will be stored at ESD No. 10’s facilities near Calaveras Lake.
“If this boat is able to save one life, then that … will be worth it for that person’s family and loved ones,” said Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1).
The boat saga
The sheriff’s efforts to acquire a boat began in April last year when Salazar asked Commissioners Court to use $20,000 from the Sheriff’s Foundation to purchase a rescue boat. Then-Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) took issue with spending money on what she called a “shiny new toy” instead of directing that funding toward more pressing issues.
Salazar said at the time the department needed the boat to avoid having to borrow one from other agencies when deputies need to perform rescue or search operations.
Angry that the law enforcement agency was denied its funding request, Utah-based Black Rifle Coffee Company, which has a San Antonio presence, presented the sheriff with a $32,000 donation to buy the boat last June.
The donation became controversial after an Instagram post from one of the company’s co-founders inspired internet trolls to fill DeBerry’s social media accounts with expletive-filled comments and messages. An angered Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff pledged he would vote against accepting any funds from Black Rifle Coffee Company.
DeBerry stepped down from the Precinct 3 seat in December to run for county judge. The Commissioners Court, looking to avoid a prolonged fight, approved the boat donation and maintenance funds from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation in March.
“It comes at zero cost to Bexar County taxpayers,” Salazar pointed out at the time.
It will cost about $9,300 to cover the first year of boat maintenance. Salazar said he expects the boat’s future costs will be covered by the fund as well.
There aren’t current plans to acquire another boat, he said. “Right now it’s baby steps. For us, we’re happy to have this one. You know, at some point, I can see we may need other boats for other situations.”