Day below Lay Dam was crazy

Published 9:53 pm Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Good news: handcuffs have arrived! Bad news: When in a boat, the subject must be placed in a life preserver before being cuffed!

Even though you don’t want someone jumping overboard handcuffed, with the life preserver, you know have two things to fight about! “Excuse me, sir, I’m gonna put these handcuffs on you. But first, I’m gonna put you in a life preserver.”

An incident happened below Lay Dam about the middle of my career that still brings bad thoughts. This was the worst possible place for this type of thing. I could see one man in a rental boat standing in front of the power plant with two turbines on, well within the area requiring of a PFD.

I had to be careful not to bump him approaching the boat, causing it to capsize. His anchor was loose, and he was just tossing there, hoping he would not be pulled back in the turbine discharge.

I took his bowline and started to pull him away, and then he did the last thing that I expected: He dove into the turbulent water, heavy work shoes and all! I could see we had a real problem.

Of course, my biggest job was to keep him from drowning, but as I approached him, he would push me away. I threw a couple life preservers, hoping he would take one and borrow a few seconds.

He was wild, there was no question. With all the loud profanity and trying to get at me, I could make out something that was strange. “I’m not going back to Columbiana!”

Here’s where all your plans and preparations go out the window. I got him aboard my boat somehow while trying to keep the Patrol Boat from crashing into the rocks. I was watching my passenger as best I could and not having the luxury of time to use the cuffs or even “pat him down.”

The current was still swift, and as we were coming up on the concrete piling under the bridge, I sensed him behind me. Then, I felt the cold, sharp edge of that ugly knife at my throat. It was a seaman’s knife, with a long blade and a spike on the other end.

I don’t know whether he lost his concentration when he saw the deputy’s car or as I bumped the bridge, but I felt his grip loosen as my hand instinctively reached for my weapon. I thought I heard the knife hit the deck…it had!

I turned him over to the deputies as quickly as possible and found me a place for some quiet, private time and a little prayer and some questions for myself.

Reality really set in the next day as we learned that this person was wanted for attacking two police officers—one of them was in Shelby. That old knife hung in my patrol boat for the remainder of my cruisin’.

—Bill Attaway’s original “Cruisin’ the Coosa” column was published in The Clanton Advertiser in the 1980s and 90s. He can be reached at