AUSTIN – Three recent incidents requiring game warden drone support and successful coordination with local law enforcement led to an arrest in east Texas and two rescues of lost individuals in the hill country.
On the night of Nov. 3, Texas Game Warden Michael Hummert responded to an Erath County Sheriff’s Office request for assistance. An elderly man had gone missing in Dublin, Texas. As the only law enforcement officer equipped with a thermal drone in the county, his services were necessary.
“The setting sun prevented us from locating him through usual means,” Hummert said. “The thermal drone picks up body heat, which is necessary to locate someone at night. With the cold creeping in, it was imperative to find him quickly.”
Using cell phone records, the sheriff’s office determined a general location for the individual and Hummert mapped out a search area. Working out of a control station attached to his vehicle, he located the individual through a thermal scan and led deputies to the location.
Just nine days later, in Bell County, federal officials reached out for assistance in another missing person case. Without another available drone operator in the area, Warden Hummert arrived on scene. In this case, family shared vital information to the person’s location while federal support provided robust mapping systems. Again, the individual was found safe and secure.
Only in his second month of the Texas Game Warden Unmanned Arial System Program (UASP), Hummert has seen firsthand the benefit his skills and equipment bring to his community.
“The success is really about the right equipment. A helicopter is highly beneficial for any search and rescue but it’s not always practical in rural areas. Responding with a drone cuts your response time and cost, allowing for more versatility. I respond to anything from car accidents to bomb threats.”
Meanwhile, further east, Hummert’s drone teammate Texas Game Warden Doug Williams received a request for assistance to locate a suspect who shot at and physically assaulted two individuals, then fled. Using another thermal drone, Williams circled the residence and spotted a heat signature in the woods.
Due to the freezing temperatures, the suspect was hiding in the brush curled in the fetal position. He was arrested and later treated for hypothermia.
“Empowering our division with the drone program in cooperation with Gear Up for Game Wardens donations creates a lifeline where there wasn’t,” said UASP supervisor Lt. Matthew Bridgefarmer. “Game warden drone operators arrive first on scene to locate lost boaters and hikers. We search in the aftermath of natural disasters. At the end of the day, this program saves lives.”