New alert system from Texas credited with helping in teens' rescue in California

Friday, August 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ Six days after being adopted in California, a so-called Amber Alert system to quickly spread word about child abductions helped save the lives of two teenagers.

Within four hours of the abduction, the girls' names and a description of the car they were in were distributed to law enforcement agencies and broadcast media statewide, and the transportation authority flashed information about the car onto 316 electronic signs on California freeways.

Sheriff's deputies in Kern County said they got several calls from people who saw the car. A sheriff's helicopter crew picked up the car's trail near Walker's Pass, and deputies shot and killed Roy Dean Ratliff and freed the girls in the high desert, said Kern County Sheriff Carl Sparks.

The California Child Safety Amber Network is based on a program developed by Dallas-area broadcasters after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington in 1996.

Today, there are 41 programs across the country, credited with recovering at least 17 children since 1997.

``The California experience is a classic case of how the program works, and it is repeated in many other places as well,'' said Steve Mace, a spokesman for the Dallas-area system. ``It was a textbook example of how it should work.''

The system previously had been used in California only at local levels, including during the kidnapping of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in Orange County last month.

One key to saving lives is spreading information quickly, Mace said.

``Sadly, that's true in most of the abduction cases, as in California, where he was telling the victims he was going to kill,'' said Mace. ``Most are dead within seven hours of being abducted, and timing is critical.''

A Texas sheriff who helped implement the plan while he was an Arlington police officer said the program's popularity is easily explained.

``The question I ask when I do my classes on it is, `Can your community afford to be without this plan?' And I think when we see it around the country and see how well it works, the answer is that everyone should have it, and I think that this is one more proof today that there's no reason not to have this plan in your community,'' said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson.

Tyler Cox, chairman of the Amber Plan Task Force and operations manager of Dallas-Fort Worth radio station KRLD, said he was pleased with the California case.

``Far too often, we get calls from communities after a tragedy has occurred,'' Cox said. ``It was nice to know that in this case, the system worked.''