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'A lone guardian angel'

by Alecia Warren
| December 28, 2010 8:00 PM

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Robert Manning says he wants to do his part to help rescue workers and those involved in traffic accidents that he helps direct traffic for until law enforcement shows up on scene.

ATHOL - Robert Manning is trying to be a good samaritan.

He's a one-man operation, he says. A lone guardian angel for winter drivers and patrol officers spread thin.

An invisible support system.

"I want to give back, in my way," the 50-year-old Athol man said.

The retiree's tools are carefully chosen: A base radio, hand held scanner, two scanners at home, all tuned in to local and state police channels 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He has two Starduster antennae, one on his home, one on a telephone pole, to extend his signal.

Manning's plan: Every day, from now until bad weather ends in May, he will listen.

For wrecks, he says. For slide offs. For roll over accidents.

"It's sort of a hobby. And it's something to do out here," he said simply.

When the former dishwasher and janitor hears an accident, Manning goes into action. He uses his cell phone to dial state or local law enforcement to let them know the location and nature of the accident.

If he is close to the wreck, he drives his truck there and sits with his hazards on, keeping watch.

"I don't get out and interfere. I think that's probably illegal," he said.

He got the idea after noting all the wrecks that occur in North Idaho during the winter, he said.

The stretch of freeway by Athol is perilous in the winter, he said, especially a slick hill by Kelso.

"Of course 95 is always dangerous. But it's worst in the winter when it freezes and it rains," he said.

Manning is already busy, he said, adding that last week there were two wrecks nearby in one day.

"I have a funny feeling this will be more than a hobby this winter," he said.

He realizes there are law enforcement patrols and dispatch to monitor problems. But he figures they're busy this time of y ear, and could use an extra hand.

Manning even put an ad in The Press classifieds encouraging folks to call him if they spot any traffic problems.

"There's not enough state (police) to cover this," he said.

Idaho State Police and local law enforcement didn't respond to an e-mail he sent them about his plans, Manning said.

Christie Wood, spokesperson for the Coeur d'Alene Police, wasn't sure if she supported his operation.

The police always appreciate anyone who wants to join the ranks of trained volunteers, Wood said, who can help at accident scenes with traffic control.

"But someone just showing up to help without law enforcement knowing what their purpose is or why they're there, they could actually be obstructing an investigation and not even realize it," she said.

Manning sounds harmless enough if he only sits in his truck, Wood added, but he could be putting himself in harm's way, too.

"You should probably avoid the scene of any kind of a serious accident or crime in progress, just for your own safety," she said.

Maj. Ben Wolfinger, spokesperson for the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department, said he hadn't heard of Robert Manning.

Wolfinger couldn't comment on Manning's plan, but said if a wreck is announced on a police scanner, law enforcement has already been dispatched to it.

"He (Manning) probably knows as much about the call as we do when we get there," he said.

Managing winter accidents can be hectic, Wolfinger acknowledged.

"We're always spread thin, there's never a question about that. But they are managing fairly well," he said of patrols. "Except for days like the other day when all the snow hit and everyone decided to crash into each other."

Manning said he has been in two roll over accidents in the past two years, with no injuries. He was grateful for the law enforcement that rushed to the scene.

He just considers his plan as looking out for his fellow man, he said.

"Everyone ought to do it," he said.

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