By Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
Twenty-five Arkansas Game and Fish Commission enforcement officers and a K-9 were recipients of the division’s top honors Thursday at a special presentation held at the AGFC Headquarters Auditorium in Little Rock.
This was the first award ceremony for the AGFC Enforcement Division since 2019, as the last two years were suspended because of COVID-19 protocols. Awards were presented by AGFC Director Austin Booth, AGFC Enforcement Chief Col. Brad Young, Major Nakia Crims and Major Brian Aston.
“Duty is a calling, it is a heavy burden, and it is an honor,” Director Booth said. “It is one of the greatest privileges that I have to say that you wear that duty not with self-pity or martyrdom, but you wear it well. You wear it with excellence, with commitment to everyone else in this agency. Today is about celebrating not only these officers, but the entire Enforcement Division and the impact it has on law and order, the impact on public safety throughout the state, and most importantly the impact it has on conservation.”
Seven officers received the Warden’s Star for acts of heroism involving unusual situations or occurrences that demanded immediate action, exceptional tactics or engenuity to overcome.
Cpl. Mac Davis received two Warden’s Stars for separate events in which he showed unfaltering courage in the face of adversity. In March 2020 at the assistance of local law enforcement agencies, he located and apprehended an armed assailant in Scott County who was wanted in connection with an assault on a police officer with a firearm. He acted quickly to subdue the subject as he was reaching for a loaded firearm in his pocket. Davis’ second Warden Star recognition came from his swift action in rescuing a woman whose truck was swept off a bridge during a flood event in Scott County in September 2021. During the rescue, Cpl. Davis waded into the swift water to the nearly submerged truck, removed his own life jacket and gave it to the flood victim who stated she could not swim well. Once assistance from other officers arrived, he was able to put on another life jacket and work with the woman to get her to safety using a rope line before finally crossing the swift water again to make it to safety. Sgt. Brian Bailey and Wildlife Officer Tyler Staggs also received Certificates of Commendation for their work in this emergency situation.
Davis assisted in a separate flood event, this time in January 2021, but it was Sgt. Brian Bailey whose actions merited a Warden’s Star recognition. During the flood a driver had attempted to cross a low-water bridge and the car was swept away with three people inside. While two occupants were able to get to safety, a 13-year-old boy had climbed into a fallen tree and was stuck in the near-freezing water. Although they were able to get him a life jacket and safety rope, the boy had been exposed to the cold water for so long that he was unwilling to enter into the swift water to cross to safety. After being tied in with a safety line to other rescuers, Sgt. Bailey waded into the swift water and grabbed the young man. Both were pulled to safety and to an emergency medical services crew. Cpl. Davis received a Certificate of Commendation for his role in the event as well.
Cpl. Ray Hines and Wildlife Officer Chris Crawford also received Warden’s Star recognition, also for a swift water rescue. In June 2020, flash flooding in Polk County had swept a vehicle 200 yards from a bridge. The officers found the individual’s vehicle, which was completely submerged. The occupant had managed to get to a nearby tree, where he was clinging for his life. Officers Hines and Crawford swam to the distressed man, secured a life vest to him and a rope to the tree he was in, and safely guided him to shore.
Wildlife Officers Cody Stone, Jake Stanford and Clint Park also received the Warden’s Star for their fast thinking and response to a near tragedy when an 8-year-old boy and his father were swept into swift current on the Buffalo National River. The trio was conducting swift-water rescue training with other officers, enforcement cadets and Van Buren County Search and Rescue. The boy was swept away by the current, and his father jumped in to save him only to be pulled into the swift water himself. Officers Stone, Stanford and Park jumped into the water while Wildlife Officer Kent Slape threw a rope to the individuals. Once they reached the individuals, Stone, Stanford and Park used the rope to pull them to safety. Officer Slape and Wildlife Officers Eric Rawls, Stephanie Carter, Renner Smith, Caleb McClanahan and Doug Martisek also received Certificates of Commendation for their actions in rescuing the two individuals.
Three Lifesaving Medals also were awarded. Recipients for these medals included Lt. Adam Baker, Sgt. Jeff Black and Cpl. Troy Faughn.
- Lt. Baker’s fast actions saved the life of a girl who was choking on a foreign object at a youth sporting event in Bryant, where he was volunteering.
- Sgt. Black was able to save the life of a 21-year-old man in Montgomery County who was found in his bed struggling to breathe. Black was able to administer the NARCAN issued to his first-aid pack to sustain the man’s life until EMS arrived.
- Cpl. Troy Faughn saved the life of an Arkansas County resident who had accidentally shot himself with a handgun and was suffering from extensive bleeding and a broken femur. Faughn was able to control the bleeding using pressure and a tourniquet until paramedics arrived 20 minutes later.
Certificates of Commendation are awarded for actions above and beyond normal duty requirements and demonstrate such traits as courage, resourcefulness and unselfishness in situations that otherwise could escalate into a tragic one. In addition to previously mentioned officers, the following officers received Certificates of Commendation:
- Cpl. Ray Hines and Wildlife Officer Chris Crawford received commendations for their fast response in rescuing a man trapped underneath his tractor, which had crushed his leg.
- Sgt. Tom Pointfield, Cpl. Gary Don Stell and K-9 Lucy received commendations for the successful search and rescue of two missing boys, aged 8 and 10, who had gotten lost while riding an ATV and fell into a creek in 39-degree weather.
- Sgt. Joe Williams, Wildlife Officer Aaron Dillard, Wildlife Officer Eric Rawls, Wildlife Officer Stephanie Carter and Cpl. Chris Lynch received commendations for their work in freeing a man from an 18-wheeler that had been struck by a train near Wilmot. The man was extracted from the cab of the vehicle and air-lifted to a hospital in Jackson, Mississippi.
The following wildlife officers also received special awards for their efforts in specialized areas of wildlife law enforcement:
- Cpl. Bernie Soliz was recognized as the 2022 Boating Enforcement Officer of the Year. In addition to making 3,260 contacts with boaters, resulting in 133 citations and three boating-under-the-influence arrests, Soliz is routinely called upon to help in boating- and fishing-related interviews with Spanish-speaking individuals and public relations efforts to Spanish-speaking communities. Soliz also volunteers to serve as a liaison to families during times of crisis after boating incidents and fatalities.
- Wildlife Officer Aaron Dillard was honored as the 2021 National Wild Turkey Federation Officer of the Year for Arkansas. In addition to locating and monitoring 16 illegal baiting sites, Officer Dillard worked with two different organized youth hunts and has improved digital forensic efforts at the agency to identify possible poaching violations.
- Cpl. Ryan Hollowell of Woodruff County received the 2022 Waterfowl Officer of the Year from the Mississippi Flyway Council. During the last year, he coordinated two youth hunts, met with numerous hunters and hunting clubs to clarify waterfowl regulations, assisted in two searches for lost or stranded hunters, and investigated two boating accidents on wildlife management areas that involved injuries and required transport of the hunters to medical services.
- Wildlife Officer Kurt VanMatre of VanBuren received the 2022 Monty Carmikle Arkansas Wildlife Officer of the Year at the conclusion of the ceremony. Although being with the AGFC for only five years, Officer VanMatre has already made a mark on the outdoors through enforcement, public relations and partnerships with other agencies. In addition to participating in public events on Facebook Live on boating safety, he also participated in-person in kayaking safety classes for children, turkey calling and firearms safety classes, duck hunts for the Arkansas Becoming an Outdoors-Woman workshop and Concerns of Police Survivors retreats. He also was involved in 441 citations for wildlife regulations violations, 122 being considered major violations, such as night hunting and hunting out of season. He also was involved in 19 felony drug arrests and 23 misdemeanor drug cases while working public land in Arkansas, helping keep the public safe while enjoying the outdoors. He also has worked with scientists outside the AGFC to submit samples of antlers and teeth from Arkansas deer to research the ability to pinpoint origins of these types of artifacts, which will aid greatly in future law enforcement efforts.