Water rescue comes at a cost to taxpayers

It's estimated the water rescue of a woman Thursday night near Manor - cost county taxpayers almost $800. Officials say the woman, identified as Vanessa Lowe, reportedly drove around barricades and into a flooded roadway.

The vehicle swept into a field, east of Manor, represents a financial loss for the owner. How it got there wasn't that important for Starflight Crew Chief Mike Summers

"My job is not to worry about the why it's to go out and fix the problem."

Thursday night the Starflight crew raced to meet responders on the ground near a flooded portion of Bitting School Rd.

"The individual, a 39 year old female drove past one of the barricades made it across one bridge which had a foot of water, but on the second bridge which had two or three feet of swift water it moved her vehicle off the road and swept it down stream," Travis County ESD 4 Captain Von Beals.

The driver, identified as 39-year-old Vanessa Lowe, was able to reach an oak tree and waited for help. To find her, the air rescue team used night vision goggles. Light from the woman's cell phone also guided them in.

"Thankfully she had a cell phone with her, most cellphones have an IR light that's constantly going and that shows up like a beacon under night vision goggles," said Summers.

From the darkness and the flood waters Lowe was lifted out. On board, a quick medical assessment was made. Once on dry ground, Summers says Lowe had very little to say.

"Just thanks and she patted, gave me a pat on my knee."

It's estimated this rescue mission cost Startflight about $750.

Lowe's quick thank you is basically all she had to offer. She got the free ride because current rules do not allow Startflight to bill people for rescues.

"We perform these missions under FAA regulations called public aircraft, or government operations," said Starflight Program Director Casey Ping.

The air transport and rescue service, according to Ping, is only certified to seek re-imbursement for medical flights. Incidents like major accidents, heart attacks and hospital transfers. Travis County residents are charged nearly $4,000 for those flights. Non-residents pay $87-hundred. There's an additional fee of $105 per air mile. Getting certification to charge for rescues, Ping says, costs a lot more that what they now spend on those type of missions.

"It's such a small percentage of our overall budget that it really hasn't become a problem when we had to look at different funding mechanisms at this point but certainly it could be in the future.

Last year Starflight had a $4.7 million budget which was approved by Travis County. The air service generated $3.65 million in 2014 which went back into the County general fund. The only way the county can get reimbursed for the type of rescue that took place Thursday night is if a ticket is issued for driving around barricades. That may be what's in store for Lowe. Investigators are looking into the possibility of filing charges against Lowe for going around the roadblock.


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