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SO gets radio-controlled boater education tool

He talks, drives a snazzy little boat and with his big bright eyes he will unabashedly wink at you.

But the newest addition to the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office is in fact a high-tech teaching tool that, hopefully, will take the message of water safety to the under 12 crowd.

The sheriff’s office has gotten a remote-controlled robotic boat and ventriloquist-style doll that can be taken to schools, clubs and public events to teach young children about water safety, bringing an important but often scary topic down to a child’s level.

“We have a lot of water around this county, with the river and lakes. Our goal is to educate kids about dangers of water and the how to be safe around it,” Sheriff Jeff Lawless said.

Perhaps the nicest thing about Skipper is, he’s free.

At a cost of $10,200, Skipper was paid for with an Ohio Division of Watercraft grant.

Grant money is different from general fund tax dollars. Grant money must be applied for and must be used for a specific, stated purpose.

A grant can’t be used for instance, to buy a new cruiser, or balance the county’s budget or pay an official’s salary.

It must be used under the supervision of the agency giving the grant and only for the approved purpose named in the grant request.

The grant that was used to purchase Skipper had to be used specifically to pay for an educational tool.

The sheriff routinely applies for grants for a myriad of things county finances can’t easily cover, such as overtime for deputies, equipment, its marine patrol and education programs.

Although the boy with the boat is called Skipper for now, Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol Director Steve Cartmell said he hopes to have a contest and allow school children in Lawrence County to pick out a name for the robotic boy. And he hopes kids far and wide get to see the office’s newest addition.

“What we want to do is take him to schools, any Lawrence County school, even Jackson or Scioto County or in Kentucky. We want to teach boating safety, swimming safety,” Cartmell said.

Another topic Skipper is likely to tackle is high water safety during floods, Cartmell said.

When heavy rains cause streams to leave their banks, kids often find the event fascinating, not realizing the potential risk of getting too close to the swiftly moving water.

No ordinary fellow, Skipper has a hidden MP3 player, so his public appearances can be full programs with music.

He has a siren and lights that work and even a water squirter on the front of his boat — guaranteed to get a kid’s attention from five feet away.

Cartmell said the sheriff’s office’s marine patrol program has gotten watercraft grants in the past to pay for a 26-foot patrol boat for the Ohio River, to pay for Splish and Splash, the watercraft dummies, and even other educational supplies.

Skipper will make his county-wide debut in the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade in May.

He will also visit the Lawrence County Junior Fair in July.

Any school or group that wants a visit from Skipper may call the sheriff’s office at 532-3525.