Williams County deputies assist a victim of a rollover accident west of Williston in October. - Photo by Eric Hylden / Forum News Service
By Amy Dalrymple
Forum News Service
During an overnight patrol shift for the Williams County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Jake Manuel jinxes himself by calling it a quiet night.
Not long after saying that, Manuel weaves his pickup through the sprawl of Williston construction zones and oil truck traffic on his way to a possible domestic disturbance.
A woman had called 911, crying, about 11:30 p.m. Then the line went dead.
“We take that right away as serious,” Manuel says to two Forum News Service journalists riding along on an October night. “You never know what’s going on.”
Dispatchers don’t have an address, but they trace the cell phone call to a rural area west of Williston where temporary housing developments for oil workers seem to pop up overnight.
GPS systems are no good here. There are no street signs or significant landmarks. Few of the housing developments have names.
Manuel and other deputies are persistent in their search for the 911 caller, driving on bumpy gravel roads and knocking on doors in RV parks and other housing areas Manuel describes as “motel-looking things” and “homemade man camps.”
In addition to dealing with significant jumps in 911 calls since the oil boom began, officers in western North Dakota have to keep up with rapidly changing housing developments and transient populations.
“Out here, it’s a nightmare,” Manuel said. “You drive around everywhere and still you can’t keep up on this stuff.”
Nearly two hours later, the frustrated deputies still haven’t found the woman and move on to another domestic call.
At 2 a.m., Manuel is dispatched to another common incident in the Oil Patch: a vehicle accident. In this case, a man was ejected from his vehicle in a rollover crash on Williston’s temporary truck bypass.
Officers search the fields for other potential victims and block traffic so they can guide a medical helicopter to land on the highway. Then there are reports and other paperwork to fill out.
“So much for a quiet night,” Manuel says.
Williams County deputy Jacob Manuel goes door to door at a man camp near Williston in response to a 911 call. - Photo by Eric Hylden / Forum News Service