An article Thursday about the Charles County Sheriff's Office's use of all-terrain vehicles misstated the rank of officer Chris Spaulding. He is a patrolman first class. (Published 9/5/04)

One day last month, when a woman out on a nature walk was found about 300 yards into the woods near Bryantown suffering from heat exhaustion, EMS responders found themselves in a predicament not uncommon in the craggy countryside of Southern Maryland: The swampy terrain prevented them from transporting the woman to their ambulance.

But the Charles County Sheriff's Office had a solution: call in a deputy with an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) to negotiate the rough country off the 5400 block of Bryantown Road to rescue her. Eventually, the woman, in her sixties, was brought out of the woodlands on the back of the ATV driven by Cpl. Chris Spaulding and taken to a hospital.

That incident and others like it reaffirm the usefulness of the vehicles for the Charles County Sheriff's Office and make authorities there all the more grateful that they received eight new ones from a White Plains company this summer.

Atlantic Power and Cycle of White Plains and the Yamaha Corp. presented the sheriff's office with the new ATVs, trailers and warranties at cost -- $28,400, said Kristen Adkins, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.

The sheriff's office purchased its first two ATVs from Atlantic Power and Cycle in 1998 and leased three others last year. But all five had been used so often, they were beginning to require more than regular maintenance, said Spaulding, one of two officers in the department certified to train others in the use of the ATVs.

"It was just time for them to be replaced," Spaulding said. "They started having maintenance issues. Plus the new ones are lighter, faster, safer and more reliable."

Charles County Sheriff Fred Davis said the rural and sometimes rough county geography makes the ATVs a necessary part of the department's vehicle fleet.

"The county is very rural," Davis said. "We have a lot of land that is being utilized illegally by four-wheelers. Frequently, we also have kids lost in the woods, so the ATVs serve as a way to get around on the property where we would otherwise not be able to."

Recently, Spaulding and his partner, Cpl. Don Kabala, who heads the ATV program and who has trained about 40 officers from the sheriff's office and other Maryland police agencies, investigated a complaint of ATVs trespassing on private property on a farm near the Charles and Prince George's county line. Both officers used ATVs to track down the trespassers.

"We try not to get into a situation where we have to chase them because we won't," Spaulding said. "It's not worth the risk. What we try to do is get them in a spot where they can't get out, where we don't have to chase them."

After the April 2002 tornado, ATVs were used in Charles County rescue efforts; and last September, the vehicles were used in the wake of Hurricane Isabel.

"Even if there's no trail, we can get by just about anything," Spaulding said after driving through a patch of high bushes in a wooded area near the sheriff's office headquarters in La Plata with a new ATV, showcasing the machine's maneuverability.

When they're not being used during emergencies, authorities also use them during special events, such as Fourth of July celebrations and county fairs.

The department chose a fleet of mid-size ATVs, weighing about 500 pounds, for their ability to maneuver through all kinds of terrain. The vehicles -- capable of operating while almost entirely submerged in water -- also can be used in swamps, Spaulding said.

Meanwhile, the sheriff's office reminds residents that while ATVs are legal in Charles County, riders are not permitted to operate them on roadways or on private property without permission.

Authorities said ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts should stay on their property or go to places dedicated to riding, such as the 300-acre ATV park in southern Charles County, near the Wicomico River.

The vehicles are not without their hazards. From 1997 to 2001, the number of ATV-related injuries doubled nationally to 111,000, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those, 38 percent involved teenagers.

Just a week ago, a 12-year-old La Plata boy was injured seriously when the ATV he was operating struck a car in a driveway in La Plata.

Nationally, 270 people were killed on ATVs in 2001. In 2000, 344 people were killed, and the overall annual number of deaths has stayed fairly static since the late 1980s even as the number of ATVs in use has boomed.

Cpl. Don Kabala rides his ATV through a wooded area similar to areas where ATVs have rescued people whom other vehicles could not reach. Cpl. Don Kabala, left, and Cpl. Chris Spaulding with some of the Charles County Sheriff's Office's ATVs.