Imagine a crime scene's evidence lay just below, at the bottom of a lake — not the optimal environment for evidence discovery and retrieval. An investigator brings out a submersible remote-operated vehicle (ROV) and sends it into the murky depths, and soon a viewing monitor shows eerie images of drowned victims on the lake bottom.
Sounds almost scripted — like it was written for a television show. It was. CBS's CSI episode, "Gum Drops," which aired October 20, 2005, featured the VideoRay ROV. The characters used the tool just as described; an investigator guided it to locate the episode's victims.
Months later, in real life, the same submersible device was utilized in Price County, Wisconsin; where it provided video forensic evidence and led divers to a drowned victim. The next year the ROV located and recovered the body of a 66-year-old man from 28 feet of water in the north arm of Burntside Lake, north of Ely, Minnesota. This marked the first time the unit was employed to bring a body to the surface. Then in 2007, Security Administrators Ltd. used the submersible to locate a total of 18 drug canisters which held 2,000 pounds of marijuana. These examples only show a brief cross-section of the many news-worthy occurrences where a VideoRay unit has assisted law enforcement over the years.
The football-sized VideoRay ROV submersible allows investigators to examine waters without requiring a diver's feet to get wet. "Basically, it's an extremely portable and reliable remotely operated robot camera that can take a look underwater quickly and easily," explains VideoRay sales and marketing coordinator Brian Luzzi.
The Phoenixville, Pennsylvania-based VideoRay LLC was inspired to create a submersible small enough to explore delicate wreckage in deep waters such as the historically infamous Titanic or the Japanese submarine, I-52, sunk during World War II. VideoRay's micro-ROV was developed and soon applied to explore and capture underwater worlds on video, whether for education, aquaculture research, investigations, security or surveys of dams, pipelines, wrecks or water tanks.A pre-survey tool
Investigators have found a multitude of benefits from using the aquatic robot, which ultimately produce a more effective, safe dive.
The ROV assisted Det. Jack Trevisan from the Kennett Square (Pennsylvania) Police Department and Det. Kenneth Beam of the Chester County (Pennsylvania) Detectives, in search of a murder weapon thrown into the Coatesville Reservoir in 2006. The VideoRay company, now manufacturing nine models of its submersible, arrived on-scene to help.
As evidenced by the Price County and Burntside Lake body discoveries, the VideoRay ROV unit has been used by law enforcement to find and recover evidence.
"In previous search and recovery missions, it has been an effective tool in locating evidence and bringing closure to cases." VideoRay's Luzzi explains. As an indirect benefit, law enforcement can use the submersible as an initial tool to gauge a scene for risks and hazards and to characterize the environment. "Basically it's like a pre-survey tool," he adds.
Though Undersheriff Dave Phillips of the St. Louis County (Minnesota) Sheriff's Office and Capt. Tom Crossmon of the St. Louis County Sheriff Rescue purchased a VideoRay ROV to use as a scene surveyor, they still planned for their teams to venture into waters after previewing the scene. "We initially purchased it to use as a search tool and have our divers do the recovery," says Crossmon.
The previewing benefit the unit provides is helping to keep divers safe. A common problem in underwater crime scene investigation is the risk divers take in unfamiliar submarine environments.
"On any kind of dive operation, a lot of times the divers are going out blind in what can be hazardous waters," Trevisan states in a Pennsylvanian news article. "With this equipment, they'll know what they're facing ahead of time."