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Stroke of fate: Child rescued by Texas game warden on Lavaca Bay

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By: Matt Wyatt July 15, 2020 Updated: July 15, 2020 5:44 p.m.

 

Texas game warden Ben Bailey rescued a child who had been swept from shore in Lavaca Bay last week.

Ben Bailey was on his way to take his boat out of the water when he got the call.

The Texas game warden changed course with haste. Someone was in trouble.

He thought he was responding to an adult in distress, swept away from shore. He knew he had to get there quickly. The waves from passing vessels can prove deadly on an open Lavaca Bay.

“The wake from those ships can be as tall as a person,” Bailey said.

When he arrived on scene, the game warden was surprised to find an inner tube wrapped around a 6-year-old girl, 1,200 yards from shore and in the middle of the Matagorda ship channel.

She was crying heavily when he arrived, but Bailey noted it was fortunate that she smartly remained in her tube. Bailey gently pulled his boat up next to the little girl and hoisted her aboard.

She immediately embraced him.

Bailey returned the child to her grandmother where they had been swimming near Magnolia Beach. His work was done.

The rescue was a stroke of fate.

Water safety, patrols and rescues are a significant part of Bailey’s work life as a game warden in coastal Calhoun County.

However, it is up to individual discretion whether the warden patrols that community by truck or boat on a day-by-day basis.

The rescued little girl can thank her lucky stars that Bailey decided to go with his boat last Tuesday.

“It was by chance that I decided to go out on the water that day. And I’m glad I did because there weren’t any other boats out there to get her,” Bailey said.

Bailey said that with the busy Fourth of July weekend in the rearview, the bay was empty of anyone who could have assisted the stranded child. The Texas game warden was perhaps her only hope.

The incident serves as a reminder of the constant preparation and vigilance required of water safety.

Bailey, 35, said he and his wife Chelsea, who is also a game warden in Calhoun County, keep their kids in life jackets while on the beach.

“It only takes a second for something to happen,” said Bailey, who’s been a game warden for 10 years.

“That current and wind will push a float faster than you can swim. A lot of times we have boats get away from people, they’ll swim after them and they’ll end up drowning. Stuff gets carried out pretty quick.”

Game wardens have had a busy summer so far patrolling Texas waters.

Wardens carried out water safety checks on over 11,000 vessels and arrested 42 people for operating a boat while intoxicated on July 4 weekend.

Officers across the state were also involved in several water-related rescues over the holiday weekend.

Game wardens picked up three people whose boat had washed ashore on San Jose Island in Aransas County. Wardens brought to safety two people who were clinging to a kneeboard after their boat capsized on Lake Travis. A swamped kayaker was rescued, and a lost child was found on Lake Alan Henry.

Over that weekend, game wardens also investigated 21 boat accidents, three boating-related deaths and seven open-water drownings.

Water rescues are something game wardens are accustomed to as part of the job description. Game wardens usually are involved in over a thousand water-related rescues a year. Last year they made 1,097 water rescues. In 2017, wardens made 3,775, and the numbers do not include disaster events like Hurricane Harvey.

Water rescues are a constant part of a game warden’s education. In preparation for hurricane season, game wardens will be holding swiftwater search and rescue training on Lake Bridgeport this Wednesday.

For Bailey, saving someone on the water is just another day at the office for “the best job in Texas.” He recalls his tale of rescue with the measured humility so typical of many Texas game wardens.

His occupation is a calling he wanted to answer since he was young.

Bailey was born and raised in Louisiana but frequented the area where he now works as a child. His grandfather was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who flew B-52s on training missions to bomb Matagorda Island. They would hunt and fish a lot in the area, and it’s where he had his first run-ins with Texas game wardens.

“I remember interacting with Texas game wardens when I was young and it just left an impression on me, the way they carried themselves and how they talked. They were polite, professional,” Bailey said.

Now, he is who he once aspired to be. He does not seek recognition for the rescue he made last week, he said he’s only relieved that the situation worked out for the best. Often, it does not.

“I’m just glad it was a rescue and not a recovery,” he said.

Houston Chronicle article: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Texas-game-warden-Ben-Bailey-rescues-child-Lavaca-15404985.php

Generous Donations Provide Critically Needed Equipment

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Thanks to some recent generous donations, Texas Game Wardens near Corpus Christi now have access to some critically needed specialty equipment that will allow them to perform their duties more efficiently and effectively.

The Texas Brush Country Safari Club International (SCI) Chapter and the Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association (SEA) provided $15,000 in funding to purchase a utility terrain vehicle (UTV) for Corpus Christi area game wardens.

“The Brush Country Chapter of SCI was happy to partner with our friends at SEA to help out our local Texas Game Wardens, said Jeff Sizemore, President/Treasurer of the Texas Brush Country SCI Chapter. “We know how important their role is in the Lone Star State and we’re eager to help once again via Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program.”

The UTV will be used by game wardens for conservation law enforcement, public safety and emergency response.

“We’ll be using the new UTV in many different ways,” explained Texas Game Warden Lerrin Johnson, who is stationed in San Patricio County. “We will be patrolling the beaches and checking fishermen. We also protect the endangered sea turtles that come in to nest along the shoreline. Later on, during hunting season, we’ll be patrolling ranches and checking in with hunters.”

A Gear Up for Game Wardens presentation at the January meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) Board of Trustees meeting led to a $12,000 donation from ExxonMobil for some critically needed gear. ExxonMobil’s Samantha Omey encouraged her company’s donation after hearing the update which led to funding the replacement of two needed airboat trailers on the coast that were out of commission due to aging and rust. Without the new trailers provided by ExxonMobil’s donation, the airboats would not be in service today.

“We appreciate what Texas Game Wardens do to protect our natural resources on the coast,” said Samantha Omey, Southwest Government Relations Manager for ExxonMobil, a long-time corporate partner. “These airboats help our game wardens get the job done, especially all the extra work and hours these folks put in during crises like hurricanes. Texas Game Wardens always go the extra mile.”

Texas Game Wardens on the front lines of conservation law enforcement and emergency response sincerely appreciate the support.

“We are immensely grateful for the generosity of Texas individuals, companies and organizations,” said Johnson. “These donations are providing critically needed equipment that we utilize in the field every day and helps us do our jobs better and safer. I know every game warden out there appreciates Gear Up for Game Wardens.”

San Angelo SCI Chapter Supports Texas Game Wardens

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The San Angelo Chapter of Safari Club International (SCI) is once again proudly supporting Texas Game Wardens in their own back yard. The chapter held its annual fundraiser on Feb. 22 to raise funds for wildlife conservation. The chapter is an ongoing contributor to Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s (TPWF) Gear Up for Game Wardens program.

Most recently the chapter provided funding for a Search and Rescue boat that will be used in the West Texas region in and around San Angelo.

Photographed Left to Right: Jimmy Fontenot, San Angelo SCI Board President, Bob Benson, TPWF Director of Major Gifts, San Angelo SCI Board Member Alan McClain

“The network of Texas SCI chapters are true friends of the Texas Game Wardens,” said Bob Benson, TPWF Director of Major Gifts. “The San Angelo chapter has been there since the beginning proving steadfast support to the Gear Up for Game Wardens program. Thanks to their contributions, our game wardens have received life-saving equipment that is keeping fellow Texans safe.”

This is the sixth annual fundraiser conducted by the San Angelo chapter. SCI raises funds to help wildlife conservation initiatives all over the world. In San Angelo, thousands of dollars have been distributed in the community and surrounding counties to help Texas Game Wardens, 4H and FFA clubs, collegiate shooting sports, youth hunting programs, and an endowed scholarship at Angelo State University for students who are earning natural resource conservation degrees. With the generous contributions of local businesses, ranchers and sportsmen, the San Angelo chapter is making a difference at home and all over the world.

FIND OUT MORE about the San Angelo Chapter of Safari Club International.

Dallas Stewards Gear Up for Game Wardens

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The Dallas chapter of Stewards of the Wild raised more than $27,000 for Gear Up for Game Wardens at a special event in late January. About 200 people attended the fifth annual “State of Conservation” event, which was held at the Dallas Country Club.

WFAA meteorologist and avid outdoorsman Pete Delkus moderated a panel discussion with several North Texas game wardens, who regaled the crowd with stories about their adventures in conservation law enforcement. The audience learned about the many different roles that Texas Game Wardens play, from enforcing game and fish laws to responding to natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding events. They also learned about the specialty gear that Texas Game Wardens need to do their job and how Gear Up for Game Wardens is outfitting Texas Game Wardens across the state.

Gear Up for Game Wardens is a Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) program that provides specialty equipment Texas Game Wardens need to maintain safety and ensure the highest level of service for the people of Texas. While the state provides the basic necessities for game wardens to do their jobs, there is still a critical need for additional equipment.

The more than $27,000 raised will be spent in the North Texas region to purchase critically needed night vision equipment and a handheld thermal unit. The thermal unit helps Texas Game Wardens narrow down the location of a missing person by identifying a heat signature, and the night vision equipment allows them to carry out searches in the dead of night.

Stewards of the Wild Dallas chapter co-chairs Raymond Morrow and Chris Landers helped organize the event, and this is the first time the proceeds from the “State of Conservation” event have been donated to Gear Up. Stewards of the Wild is TPWF’s young professionals organization with chapters scattered across the state. The idea for Stewards of the Wild originated in Dallas, and the Dallas chapter led the way for other chapters to be established.

“We are grateful for the generous donations made by the Dallas Stewards,” said Austin Taylor, TPWF’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program manager. “These funds will be deployed immediately to provide the specialty gear North Texas game wardens need to be more effective in the field.”

While the mission of the evening was serious, several of the game wardens seem to have a second calling in comedy. Captain Steve Stapleton had the crowd in stitches as he worked the room, a duck decoy on a line behind him.

“We had to arrest this little guy,” Stapleton deadpanned. “We caught him with quack!”

Local events like this one are key to Gear Up for Game Wardens success. More than $1.2 million have been raised across the state since the program launched in October 2017. There are several upcoming events, including one in Lubbock on April 23 and in an Angelo on June 6.

FIND OUT MORE about Stewards of the Wild.

Texas Game Warden Profile: Ruger

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Rescued from a meth house in Washington state, Ruger might have been destined for a life of crime. But those who found him could see his promise, and after a short stay at an animal shelter, Ruger’s life purpose became clear. He was taken in by the good folks at Pacific Coast K-9 in Washington state and began a rigorous training regimen that would transform him from an undisciplined puppy to a focused crime fighter.

About that same time, leaders in the Law Enforcement Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were researching what it would take to start a K-9 Unit in Texas. With support from Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the first team of five dogs and five game warden handlers began their training in 2013. The dogs were purchased from Pacific Coast K-9. Texas Game Warden Christy Vales was one of those first handlers, and she was paired up with Ruger, a yellow Labrador. Like his fellow K-9s, Ruger is a commissioned peace officer for the State of Texas, an official Texas Game Warden.

“He’s such a happy good dog,” said Christy, who now leads the Texas Game Warden K-9 Unit as its Captain. “It’s almost like he knew that he was rescued from a life of crime. His desire to hunt and find a lost person or track a criminal is so high when we are on a mission, and he loves affection and attention. He’s constantly seeking confirmation that he’s a good dog.”

Christy and Ruger have been on hundreds of missions together, from catching poachers to rescuing lost children, locating firearms used during poaching cases and homicides, and responding to natural disasters. A few years ago, Christy got a call about a poaching case in Milam County. Two male subjects had illegally killed two white-tailed deer at night near a gravel yard and the county game wardens needed some assistance. They had the first man in custody, and they knew the second one was nearby. Once Christy and Ruger arrived on the scene, Ruger got to work.

“Within a few minutes, Ruger picked up his scent and led us right to him,” she said. “He was hiding behind a tractor-trailer in the gravel yard and we quickly apprehended him.”

Another time, Ruger helped rescue four young children under the age of ten who were lost in the woods near Bastrop. It was a bitterly cold February night, and the children had been missing since 5:00 p.m. Christy and Ruger, along with Bastrop County Game Wardens, got the call about midnight. Ruger quickly honed in, and pulled Christy straight to the frightened children at about the same time that sheriff’s deputies provided their location from a cell phone the children used to call 911. The cell phone had no service, but one of the children realized that they could still dial 911 for help.

“The kids were freezing cold and very relieved to see us,” said Christy. “We gave them some blankets to warm them up and some food and water. I gave one of the kids one of Ruger’s toys, and they played with Ruger until we could get them safely home. He helped calm them down, and he’s a great partner to have in the field.”

Ruger has a strong work ethic, and if he could go catch a bad guy or rescue someone in trouble every day, that would be just fine with him.

“He’s nonstop every single day,” said Christy. “If we’re at home and I’m on the computer and my work phone rings, I have to go outside to have the conversation because he will just keep barking and circling, thinking we have a call.”

The Texas Game Warden K-9 unit has grown to nine handlers and dogs who perform missions all over the state. One additional team will be trained in 2020.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) has supported the K-9 unit since its inception. In recent years, TPWF has provided gear for the K-9 unit through the Gear Up for Game Warden program, which provides specialty gear for game wardens on two legs and four. Most recently, Gear Up for Game Wardens provided Garmin tactical watches for every K-9 team. The watches sync to equipment on each K-9 officer, and help each handler track the dog’s movements in the field.

“The support we get through Gear Up for Game Wardens has been amazing,” said Christy. “The specialty gear that has been provided to us helps keep our K-9 officers safe so that we can do the best job possible for the people of Texas.”

Find out how you can donate specialty equipment for your Texas Game Wardens:

Gear Up for Game Wardens Tops $1 Million Milestone

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Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program topped a $1 million fundraising milestone just two years after the program launched. Thanks to you, more than $1.2 million has been raised to provide the specialty gear our Texas Game Wardens need to be safer, more efficient, and more effective.

Since the program launched in October 2017, close to 900 donations have been made. As a result, specialty equipment and gear has been purchased and deployed across all eight game warden regions in Texas. Specialty gear provided by the program that is now being used by Texas Game Wardens includes search and rescue (SAR) drones, SAR inflatable boats, side scan sonar units, water rescue dry suits, night vision and thermal imaging units, ATVs, UTVs and specialized K-9 units.

“Texas Game Wardens play an important role in the lives of all Texans,” said Dan Flournoy, chair of the Gear Up for Game Wardens Leadership Council. “Along with their duty to protect the natural resources we all hold dear, they are also on the frontlines of natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. There have been other significant flooding events in Texas since Gear Up for Game Wardens launched, and there is no doubt in my mind that specialty gear provided through this program has saved lives. We are deeply grateful to the hundreds of Texans who have supported Gear Up for Game Wardens.”

Donations have come from all corners of the state and in all amounts, from $25 to more than $66,000 from the Saltwater Anglers League of Texas (SALT). The Sabine River Authority has also stepped up in appreciation of what Texas Game Wardens do for the people of Texas and has donated more than $70,000 in several grants to the program. An outreach event in Concan in March 2019 called Women Who Wander dedicated the proceeds of the event to Gear Up for Game Wardens for a total of more than $34,000. In addition, co-chairs of the leadership council have staged fundraisers all over the state to fund equipment for their local game wardens.

“The local committees are what make the program successful, and 100 percent of every donation received for equipment goes directly to purchase the specialty gear that our Texas Game Wardens need,” said TPWF Executive Director Susan Houston. “We are deeply grateful for the support of the committees, and for each and every donation we have received.”

Texas Game Wardens have watched over the lands, waters, wildlife and people of Texas for more than 100 years. Every year, Texas Game Wardens patrol over 10 million miles by vehicle and 130,000 hours by boat, facing challenges as unique as the 254 counties they serve.

Find out how you can donate specialty equipment for your Texas Game Wardens: