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Kanawha County Sheriff's Department adds armored vehicle

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - County law enforcement officers can now feel a little more secure when they head straight into a dangerous confrontation, like the one that involved a gun-wielding Charleston attorney earlier this week.

The Kanawha County Sheriff's Department recently added an armored vehicle to its SWAT team. It's called a BearCat.

In the incident involving attorney Mark Bramble, who was allegedly firing shots from his Sherwood Forest home, the SWAT team drove the BearCat straight up to the front door of the house.

Sgt. Jason Launi could be seen in the vehicle's turret. Inside were Capt. Sean Crosier and Lt. K.A. Vititoe.

Vititoe said of the new vehicle, "I've worked on this for 10 years. It took that long. People finally came to the realization as to why something like this is important."

The BearCat is a four-wheel drive, diesel-powered vehicle with a 397-horsepower engine, battering ram, bullet-resistant glass and the capacity to hold up to 10 officers. It is equipped with two remote-controlled cameras, searchlights and an intercom system.

The vehicle enables officers to get closer in a high-risk crisis situation. And it helps protect them as they do.

Vititoe said, "It is used when officers are coming under fire, if we feel gunfire is going to be involved. It stops most commercially available weaponry."

The price tag was $276,000.

"We intend this to be a long-term investment," Vititoe said. "How much does a human life cost? It has the potential to save a lot of lives."

This week's incident was the third time the vehicle has been put into action since it was acquired last month.  

It was used in Craigsville in a standoff between law enforcement officers and an 84-year old man. Two deputies were wounded in that shootout before the man was killed by officers.

The BearCat also was sent to South Charleston when a gunman began firing at the Southmoor Apartments last week.

"It makes us better at what we do," Vititoe said. "If we progress in technology and equipment, we'll be able to use deadly force even less."

At Bramble's home, officers used the specialty cameras to zoom in on certain windows and determine his activity. Bramble exchanged gunfire with police in a three-hour standoff before he was apprehended.

"At night, the infrared camera will help us if a suspect darts out the back door of a house," Vititoe said. "We'll be able to see that."

The only other BearCat in West Virginia is in the northern panhandle of the state. The Kanawha County vehicle, however, will be available for use by other law enforcement agencies if needed.

Vititoe said officers went to the Lenco factory in Massachusetts for training in the vehicle. Since then, training is underway to be sure some officers on each shift can operate the BearCat.

"We took six hours of training to be able to drive it safely in traffic," he said. "It's a heavy vehicle and takes a lot more room to stop."

A similar vehicle was used following the recent Boston bombing to approach the boat suspected of hiding the bomber, and to turn it over.  Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at or 304-348-4832.



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