PARIS – Two police dispatchers have been cited for their cool heads and quick response during a tense high speed chase April 23 in which Bethel Police Chief Darren Tripp was nearly run over.

Steve Kierstead and Lisa Cote, both dispatchers at the Oxford County Regional Communications Center, were commended by Tripp in a letter circulated at Tuesday’s Oxford County Commissioners meeting.

The chase, which lasted 17 minutes, covered 28 miles and required the coordinated response of five separate police departments communicating through Kierstead via radio.

“In a situation that by its very nature is arguably the most stressful call a dispatcher is called upon to handle, Steve Kierstead conducted himself with a level professionalism that I found exemplary,” Tripp wrote to Judy Knight, the RCC’s communications supervisor.

“He continually made radio contact with the pursuing units in order to obtain updates on direction, location and speed” of the truc f up to 100 miles per hour by James Knightly, 20, of Bryant Pond, Tripp said. “He quickly repeated the information verbatim over the radio in order to ensure that all responding units were aware of the ever-changing situation.”

Kierstead downplayed his role Wednesday, saying, “It’s just another day at work.”

He passed on the praise to Cote and another dispatcher, Barbara Cutler, who were working behind the scenes on the telephone and computer to coordinate the response with other dispatch centers.

“They hear my voice over the radio, but what they’re not hearing and not seeing is equally as important,” Kierstead said.

It’s all about teamwork, and anticipating what’s needed even before it’s asked for, Cote said. Many times, when one turns to the other to ask for something, the other one says they’ve already taken care of it, she said.

Knightly was eventually caught off Richardson Hollow Road by the first responding officer, Oxford County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Brian Landis, and charged with operating after suspension, eluding, failure to stop, two counts of passing a police roadblock and violation of probation.

Tripp also praised Cote for calling ahead to the Bethel Family Health Center after Knightly nearly ran Tripp over while trying to avoid spike mats Tripp had placed at the bottom of Merrifield Hill, at the edge of Bryant Pond village. Tripp had to dive backwards to avoid being hit, and wrenched his knee.

The chase happened around noon, and the health center was closed for lunch, but Cote said she told the answering service, “I’ve got an officer hurt and I need that clinic open NOW.”

By the time Tripp arrived, the clinic’s doors were open, and Cote had briefed the medical staff on the nature of Tripp’s injury.

Kierstead said calls involving high-speed chases are “very busy” because “there’s the potential for disaster at any second.” His job was made easier because he was communicating via radio with Landis, who is also trained to keep his cool in high-stress situations. It’s harder to stay cool when someone calls RCC with an emergency and is in a hysterical state, he said.

Tripp said he is rarely one to write an “atta-boy” letter, but felt the RCC’s dispatchers deserved special praise in this case.

“A lot of times the performance of the dispatch center goes unrecognized because they are behind the scenes. I do not want that to happen this time,” Tripp said.

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