Gunboats patrol Rio Grande River

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The Texas Department of Public Safety has added a new weapon to deal with increasingly confrontational drug smugglers trying to out run and out gun state troopers. A fifth DPS gunboat was recently christened in the waters of Long Lake near Austin and is ready to be deployed to the border with Mexico.

"We're seeing ton quantities of drugs and thousands of people being smuggled across," said Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. "Not one square inch of Texas are we going to cede to these thugs."

McCraw said these gunboats became a reality after troopers on the border were faced with the problem of "splash downs."

"It was so frequent we had to make up a term that describes the cartels running from police at high speeds," said McCraw.

DPS officials use the term "splash down" when a suspected smuggler runs from officers and plunges their vehicle into the Rio Grande river. DPS officials report they have encountered 65 "splash downs" since 2009.

"Once they were were in the water, they were off-limits," said Charlie Goble, a Lieutenant with the department's new tactical marine unit.

"They will do anything, they will stop at nothing to get their load safely back to where ever they're going to deliver it or get it safely back to the river so they can try again tomorrow," said Goble. "Their life literally depends on them getting it back."

DPS officials provided Local 2 Investigates with numerous videos showing trucks plunging into the river as men in rafts paddled out to scoop up the drugs and bring the bundles back to the Mexican side of the border where groups of other men were waiting to secure the loads. DPS officials also report 77 "caltrop" incidents during high speed chases since 2008. A "caltrop" is a small spike smugglers are using to flatten the tires of their pursuers.

To combat this problem, the state legislature authorized funds for DPS to build six gunboats. Each boat costs $580,000 and comes equipped with four to six fully automatic machine guns capable of firing 900 rounds a minute. The vessels are also outfitted with night vision cameras and ballistic shields that can withstand numerous gunshots. Each boat can travel in excess of 60 miles per hour and run in as little as two feet of water.

Each boat is christened under the name of a DPS trooper who was killed in the line of duty. The first vessel commissioned was in December. The fifth of what will be six boats was commissioned this month and bears the name of Trooper Russell Boyd, who was killed during a traffic stop outside of Hempstead in 1983.

"He was doing what he wanted and he was happy," said Russell's father, Ralph Boyd. "There's people who live a lifetime without doing what they want to do."

Boyd, a retired state trooper, said he was proud to know his son's name would continue to help protect Texas.

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