UUSD Bus Drivers and MSCO Corrections Deputies Evacuate Lake County Inmates
On Sunday, July 29, 2018 Ukiah Unified (UUSD) bus drivers and mechanics and Mendocino County Sheriff's Office (MSCO) corrections deputies assisted in the evacuation of 280 Lake County Jail inmates as the Mendocino Complex Fire roared toward Lakeport.
Working in conjunction with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman called UUSD Transportation Director Gabe Sherman and asked whether school district resources and personnel might be able to assist in evacuating the inmates.
Sherman called drivers and mechanics, but because of the sensitive nature of the situation, he was not at liberty to share exactly who they would be transporting. He simply asked, “Would you be willing to assist in an emergency fire evacuation?” Every driver and mechanic he called said yes.
“Thirty minutes later, the evacuation order came through. I called the drivers and mechanics back and told them who they would be transporting. No one hesitated. They all showed up immediately, some in t-shirts and shorts because they had just dropped whatever they were doing to race to the yard as fast as they could,” Sherman said.
UUSD drove seven buses and a utility truck with repair tools and parts to Lakeport over Highway 20, with fire only a few hundred feet from the buses.
“The heat was intense at times,” Sherman said. Once there, MSCO corrections deputies worked with Lake County law enforcement to load inmates onto four buses for transport to Alameda County. One empty bus and the utility truck followed behind, and the two buses that weren’t needed returned to Ukiah.
Allman said, “I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’ve never seen anything like this--we’ve never had to evacuate our jails in Lake or Mendocino Counties. When we brought the inmates out, they were scared. They’d heard about the fire but they couldn’t believe it when they saw their hometown getting consumed by fire.”
Sherman said, “The Sheriff’s Office had things under control the whole time. We had no concerns about security.” Two county corrections deputies were on each bus and the California Highway Patrol escorted the buses with vehicles in front, in the middle, and behind the bus caravan. Violent offenders traveled in a secure transport provided by Alameda County. With the CHP’s assistance, the caravan did not have to stop for anything, including red lights, stoplights, or railroad tracks. Allman said he appreciates the work of the “Dynamic Dozen,” the name he’s given to the twelve corrections officers who volunteered to assist with the jail evacuation and transport.
Sherman said the UUSD bus drivers were on the road for 12 hours, leaving Ukiah at approximately 7:00 pm and not returning home until about 7:00 am the next morning. Many of them did not sleep for more than 24 hours that day. They had few provisions and almost no time to prepare, but they came when called and successfully transported the inmates safely away from the fire.
“I want to thank the Ukiah Unified bus drivers and mechanics for stepping up. All it took was one phone call and they were ready to go,” Allman said. Allman also thanked Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern for accepting such a large number of inmates. “It’s a big deal,” Allman said. “Greg’s a great sheriff and a great guy.”