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'Uncle Bill' retires after storied law enforcement career
When the levee broke in the winter of 1997 and much of Yuba County seemed to be sinking, sheriff's Sgt. Bill Siler raced home to gather equipment and kiss his wife, Karen, and his 18-month-old son, Kyle.
"He said, 'I don't know when I'll see you again," Karen Siler recalled, "'just get to higher ground.'"
Cellphones weren't available and Siler, a water search-and-rescue expert, played a critical role in the department's emergency response.
Karen Siler didn't hear a word from her husband for more than a week.
"Then, after a week or so, I heard his voice come over the scanner," Karen Siler said. "That's how I knew he was still alive. It was a scary time."
Scary and devastating for a community, but Siler's commitment to his sworn duty to public safety was something his wife always accepted.
But such days are now just memories, old tales from a long, storied career.
After more than three decades behind the badge, Siler, 54, has retired from the Sheriff's Department. Known around the office as "Uncle Bill," Siler served 33 years in a variety of roles, but made his reputation as one of the top water-rescue law enforcment experts in Northern California.
Sheriff Steve Durfor praised Siler as a "true professional."
"His skills, his knowledge and expertise in water rescues and recoveries are second to none," Durfor said.
Siler stepped down on the last day of October and was honored and decorated by the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors during a celebration at the Sheriff's Department.
During his career, Siler worked more than 120 drowning cases throughout the North State. His last major investigation was the tragic Sept. 15 boating wreck that claimed the lives of a Penn Valley mother and her 12-year-old daughter on Englebright Lake.
In addition to his expertise on the waterways, Siler was known for his modesty and sense of humor and was a mentor to several generations of young deputies, who some said Siler seemed "larger than life."
"He always watches out for us," Deputy Willie Kardatzke said.
Kardatze recalled trying to retrieve a drowning victim several years ago in Nevada County. The body was nearly 100 feet below the surface and Kardatze was set to make the plunge, but, at the last second, Siler pulled rank and refused to let the young deputy make the dangerous dive alone.
Siler's son, Kyle, is now 17 and hopes to be just like his father and work the boat patrol deputy for the Yuba County Sheriff's Department. Kyle is currently in the department's cadet program. He called his father his "hero" and "role model."
"I think it would be a thrill to be on the dive team and rescue people," Kyle Siler said, "or, to at least make a recovery and help give a family some closure."
Siler said he's happy about his son's desire to follow in his footsteps.
"It's government work and you're not going to be rich and with all the financial cuts, it's going to get even tougher," Siler noted. "But, it's a great career and I wouldn't want him to work anywhere else but here."
CONTACT Rob Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat.