Southern Region Boating Officers of the Year


Wildlife Officer Jon Coats

Working for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, Wildlife

Officer Coats is stationed in Cleburne County, home to one of the busiest Corps of Engineers lakes in the United States – Greers Ferry. Not only does Greers Ferry Lake offer world-class fishing, but it is also a prime destination for hundreds of thousands of recreational boaters every year. In addition, the Little Red River below Greers Ferry Dam offers outstanding trout fishing but can be quite dangerous to boaters who are unfamiliar with operations in swift currents.

WO Coats devoted almost 500 hours to working some aspect of boating enforcement in 2014. He was involved in six special boating operations, including high-profile saturations on holiday weekends, Operation Dry Water, Port Fest on the White River and a random boating under the influence checkpoint on Greers Ferry. Over 4,000 boaters were contacted during these operations, resulting in 140 Officer Violator Contacts (citations/warnings). During Operation Dry Water, WO Coats made five BUI arrests on Greers Ferry with the highest BAC at 0.19. WO Coats made an additional 145 boating Officer Violator Contacts throughout the rest of the year.

After developing good working relationships with local emergency responders and area hospitals, WO Coats realized many boating accidents were going unreported. He initiated a public service announcement to educate the public on accident reporting guidelines. As a result, the number of accidents reported for Cleburne County increased significantly. WO Coats worked 14 accidents during the year and quickly became his district’s “go-to” officer when an accident occurred. Desiring to further his knowledge, he requested and attended NASBLA’s Advanced Boating Accident Analysis and Reconstruction course.

WO Coats understands enforcement is not the only way to educate the public and takes advantage of opportunities to be proactive. He realized the need to explain the difference between a USCG-approved life jacket for juveniles (Puddle Jumpers) and a very similar yet unapproved copy being sold locally. He alerted other officers and the public and published information through social media.

Officer Chris Mattson
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Officer Chris Mattson demonstrates initiative to exceed performance expectations, sets an example as a well-rounded professional and demonstrates a commitment to community service. During his 13 years of service with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Chris has consistently maintained high personal standards for his work ethic, patrol, professionalism and as a mentor to many officers.

After working as military police officer for the U.S. Air Force, Officer Mattson joined FWC in 2002. He was assigned to Monroe County – arguably the busiest boating place in the nation – and within a few years he was a field training officer, an Intoxilizer inspector, and a police academy instructor. In 2009, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Gulf Coast University while simultaneously working full time for FWC. Officer Mattson is a breath test operator, a BUI instructor and a Glock armorer and has completed other courses in line supervision, instructor techniques, and underwater police science and diving technology.

Officer Mattson is an excellent representation of an ideal boating safety officer. He deals competently with the public and addresses an extremely diverse range of boating violations in an area where just about everything revolves around boating and fishing. Perhaps what truly sets Chris apart from his counterparts is his expertise in BUI enforcement, where his passion drives him to take on some of the most challenging cases made by boating safety officers. In 2014 he was once again nominated as the Region’s MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Officer of the Year, a title he was awarded in both 2005 and 2006. He continually leads his work area (and in some instances the entire state) with BUI investigations and arrests.

Last year some high-profile, fatal alcohol-related accidents in the Miami area resulted in a multi-agency task force being formed to target BUI enforcement and reduce BUI-related accidents. Chris participated in many of these details and continues to organize and direct local BUI boating safety details in his home area.

Conservation Officer II Rodney Milburn

Officer Milburn with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources patrols the Ohio River in Meade County and Rough River Lake in Breckinridge County. He is very well respected in his county and has assisted the other agencies anytime that they were in need of help. Officer Milburn is very active in his community with fishing and hunting safety classes. He is always looking for new ideas that he may incorporate to aid in his duties by talking to the Coast Guard, marina operators and boaters.

Officer Milburn made two boating under the influence arrests on Rough River Lake in 2014. He stopped many other boaters and administered standardized field sobriety tests to ensure that the operators were able to operate their vessels safely.

Officer Milburn was instrumental in saving the life of a young girl that had been involved in a boating accident and struck by the prop of another boat. The victim suffered several prop hits to her backside and down her right leg to her foot and had to be transported by helicopter to a hospital. Officer Milburn met with her parents and stayed with them until they were notified she would make a full recovery.

In another case, Officer Milburn was in Brandenburg when a call came out that the Meade County Bank was being robbed. As Officer Milburn pulled up, the bank robber came out of a store and Officer Milburn was able to arrest the subject and locate all of the money that had been taken from the bank. If not for his quick action, the robber would have gotten away.

Sergeant Clay Marques
LouisianaLA_Clay Marques

In the nearly nine years he has been employed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries Enforcement Division, Sgt. Clay Marques has become a tremendous asset to the department.

He began his career as an agent in Livingston Parish. During that time his supervisor commended him on consistently excelling in every aspect of his work. He regularly maintained an above-average caseload and was always ready to provide assistance or instruct hunter education and boating safety classes. He is also one of only 25 select members of the Statewide Maritime Special Response Team that handles tactical situations that may occur on Louisiana’s waterways and in ports throughout the state.

He was honored as the Agent of the Year for Region 7, which is headquartered in Baton Rouge and covers eight parishes. In addition Clay received the Sunrise Rotary Club Award for his outstanding work in the community. He also received Meritorious Service Awards for his actions that exceeded normal demands of the department during search and rescue operations during Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Isaac.

Because of his hard work, dedication, loyalty and training, Marques was brought from the field to headquarters as the boating education coordinator in October 2014. These new duties require him to work directly under the boating law administrator and assist with planning, directing, managing and supervising general and complex enforcement activities of the department boating crash incident program and operational/patrol and administrative enforcement support programs of the state’s boating program.

Sgt. Marques is also responsible for coordinating the state boating education program which is a statutorily mandated program that utilizes enforcement agents and volunteers to train citizens in safe boating practices and certifies them as recipients of the training. Because of his hard work and ability to adapt so quickly to his new duties he was rewarded by being promoted to the rank of Sergeant in March 2015.

Corporal Bradley Bunting

Corporal Bradley Bunting has been employed with the Maryland Natural Resources Police since February of 2009. He consistently produces the highest quality of work as a Maryland Natural Resources Police Officer. Cpl. Bunting is highly driven and self-motivated. His knowledge of boating laws, rules of the road, personal watercraft use and operating while intoxicated enforcement make him a leader in boating enforcement actions. He uses excellent judgment in his vessel stops and always takes the opportunity to educate the public of boating laws and regulations.

Cpl. Bunting made many outstanding accomplishments throughout 2014. Maryland’s Natural Resources and the citizens of the state benefited greatly from his exceptional efforts in enforcing the boating laws and regulations that he is tasked with. During the year, Cpl. Bunting issued 82 citations and 109 warnings including 15 citations that were OWI-related, nine citations for personal watercraft violations, and two for negligent operation.

Cpl. Bunting is extremely knowledgeable in boating safety practices. This is evident in the number of quality cases he has made and assisted with over the years. He is a leader in detecting and apprehending OWI offenders and PWC violations. Cpl. Bunting was a PWC guide before becoming an NRP Officer, so he has an intimate knowledge of the PWC rental operations and guide certifications. Cpl. Bunting has also obtained his Vessel Captain’s License, which lends to a wealth of knowledge to his daily patrols. Additionally, Cpl. Bunting is a Vessel Operation Instructor in the NRP Academy.

Officer Steven Westerfield

Officer Steven Westerfield resides and works in Rankin County, which has multiple streams, lakes and waterways, including the Pearl River and the Ross Barnett Reservoir. This reservoir encompasses 33,000 acres and borders five counties. Steven provides a constant presence on these waterways enforcing boating and fishing laws and assisting the many user groups to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Steven is always seeking ways to improve the safety of the boating public, as well as the officers that patrol these waterways. When confronting violators he is fair but firm and uses these contacts as an educational opportunity to convey the need for enforcement on these waterways. He is a team player willing to assist MDWFP Bureaus as needed.

Officer Westerfield excels as a boating officer because he seeks out and attends educational/ training opportunities made available to him. He has attended many training programs, often in other states, to advance his skills. Steven also serves as an agency instructor providing in-service training in Water Survival and BUI/Field Sobriety. He is called upon to provide instruction to MDWFP Cadets at MCOTA, the agency’s Special Response Team and the uniformed Field Officer. He also serves as a Boat and Water Instructor, teaching and certifying the public in basic boating safety principles.

One event that stands out in Steven’s training and performance of his duties occurred May 16, 2014, on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. An annual public event was taking place on the reservoir with hundreds of boaters in attendance. MDWFP had assigned multiple officers to work this event. At 9:43 pm Reservoir Police Dispatch advised of an explosion aboard a houseboat. Steven and other MDWFP officers immediately responded, with Steven arriving first. He advised other officers there were multiple victims in the water and on the burning boat. He pulled one victim from the water before rescuing three more victims from the boat. He transported the victims to an ambulance at the boat ramp, before returning to the burning boat to continue the investigation.

Corporal Richard L. Ayers
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During the evening of April 27, 2014, Wayne County received torrential rains causing localized flash flooding in numerous waterways. At 2319 hours, Trooper Richard L. Ayers responded to a call about a person yelling for help near Barefoot Village on Missouri 34. He arrived on scene of a vehicle that had been washed off a private bridge into Clarks Creek. The vehicle was located approximately 100 yards downstream. While the driver had successfully made it to the bank, a passenger remained in the dangerously swift water, clinging to a tree. The passenger had incurred a leg injury during the incident and was yelling for help.

Responding troopers were still several minutes away. A local volunteer fireman arrived with his river boat. Trooper Ayers and a local city police officer entered the boat with the fireman and crossed the swift water. As the boat made it to the tree line it started to go sideways and tilt. Water came over the side and capsized the vessel. Trooper Ayers was under the boat but remained calm and used his training and experience to push himself away from the boat and surfaced. Trooper Ayers was then able to swim to shallow water and make it to the bank. The fireman and city police officer also safely made it to the shore.

Trooper Ayers made his way down the bank near the victim. He removed the victim from the tree and assisted him to a safer location. Trooper Ayers removed his life vest and placed it on the victim who was cold and shaking uncontrollably.

Trooper Logan B. Monahan and Trooper David R. Nelson arrived on scene, launched a boat and removed Trooper Ayers and the victim from the swift current. The injured man was transported by EMS to Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center for a leg injury and hypothermia.

Trooper Ayers performed an extraordinary act of heroism by extending far beyond the call of duty in a situation demanding immediate action, and involving considerable personal danger to himself in saving the life of the injured victim.

Wildlife Enforcement Officer Brian Cookston
North CarolinaNC_BrianCookston

Wildlife Enforcement Officer Brian Cookston began his career with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission in 1998. He has been stationed in Swain County for the past 13 years where he enforces the state’s boating, fishing and wildlife laws.

In 2014, Officer Cookston spent 184 hours on boating enforcement, 24 of which were during the nighttime hours, and conducted several safety inspections for recreational boaters in Western North Carolina. He charged two boating while impaired and two careless & reckless offenses. Officer Cookston also detected numerous violations of children not wearing personal flotation devices and detected night boating related violations. His 100% conviction rate in the courtroom only reinforces his quality of work.

In 2014, Officer Cookston was his district’s On the Road, On the Water and Operation Dry Water representative, where he planned and organized boating enforcement details with other law enforcement agencies. These details targeted boating while impaired and driving while impaired during holiday weekends.

Officer Cookston’s training and experience has aided him in detecting boating while impaired offenses and boat incident investigation. In addition to other training and instruction, Officer Cookston became a Basic Law Enforcement Training general instructor in 2012. He instructs annual in-service training topics for the district’s Wildlife Enforcement Officers and instructs BLET courses for his local community college.

Officer Cookston has an outstanding work partnership with federal, state and local agencies. On Fontana Lake last year he assisted the U.S. Coast Guard with an incident involving a jet boat operator who crashed into a rock wall injuring a family of four. His investigation and assistance led to federal and state charges for careless & reckless operation, which are currently pending in court. As mentioned earlier, he planned and organized On the Road, On the Water and Operation Dry Water details with the State Highway Patrol, N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement, MADD and the Swain County Sheriff’s Department.

Conducting his enforcement duties and responsibilities in a professional manner, Officer Cookston has proven he is a valuable asset to the citizens he serves. This past year exemplifies his overall efforts in boating enforcement.

Lance Corporal Mark Jervey
South CarolinaSC_MarkJervey

LCPL Mark Jervey graduated from The Citadel and began his career with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in February 2007. Assigned to Sumter County, he patrols the waters of Lake Marion and the Santee and Wateree rivers. During 2014, Lance Corporal Mark Jervey exceeded his department’s expectations, proving himself to be a first-class example of a boating officer. He spent 299 hours inspecting 1189 vessels and contacting 1255 anglers, making 95 cases and 73 warnings and assisted 49 cases within his unit. While enforcing the law LCPL Jervey understands that partnering with the public and educating boaters plays a vital role in overall safety.

In 2014, LCPL Jervey rendered and prosecuted eight boating under the influence cases, more than any other officer in the four counties that make up Lake Marion. LCPL Jervey is also a certified Datamaster Operator and assists his fellow officers with BUIs and field sobriety tests. LCPL Jervey is steadfast in making the state’s waterways safer.

LCPL Jervey is also a member of the elite SCDNR Dive Team, diving all bodies of water in the state. His duties include diving for drowning victims, accident investigation, evidence recovery, and other various requests from local law enforcement agencies. The toll of this duty is physically, mentally and emotionally trying due to the sensitive nature involved.

This is not just a “job” for LCPL Jervey; he has a genuine calling to serve others. LCPL Jervey is very active in his community outreach. In 2014 he gave seven public presentations to various schools, churches, and civic groups expressing the importance of boating safety and the dangers of Boating Under the Influence to youth as well as adults.

During 2014, LCPL Jervey spent 29 hours performing search and rescue missions on Lake Marion and the Santee River. Boaters routinely get lost in the notorious Sparkleberry Swamp, and LCPL Jervey is one of a select few officers who can navigate the swamp during adverse conditions. He also takes the initiative to teach the swamp to new SCDNR officers.

Officer Jeff Roberson

Officer Jeff Roberson’s assigned area to work encompasses 10 counties in eastern Tennessee, the city of Knoxville, and the Tennessee River. Jeff’s law enforcement efforts were outstanding in 2014. He inspected 387 vessels for compliance with Tennessee boating laws, resulting in 52 court citations and 53 written warnings. Jeff also arrested five operators for boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While on patrol Jeff made 66 law enforcement contacts on boat access areas and helped 20 recreational boaters with immediate assistance. As part of the agency’s law enforcement training cadre, Jeff assisted in boating under the influence and boat accident investigation training for wildlife officers.

In the category of boating safety education Jeff excelled by teaching 13 boating safety courses in which 225 students were certified. In addition he also taught 80 students in hunter education which has a boating education component.

Jeff did an exceptional job in the area of public outreach. He was active throughout the year spreading the boating safety message. He attended the marine trade show in Knoxville to interact with patrons and provide safety instruction with TWRA’s BUI simulator. He also appeared at numerous public meetings and events and participated in several newspaper and television interviews highlighting boating safety.

Jeff was the lead investigator on one boating accident and assisted on three more. He also assisted the state of Kentucky with an investigation by interviewing witnesses and victims at a local hospital. He invests the time necessary to ensure a thorough and competent report which includes a pursuit of criminal charges when warranted. This type of professionalism benefits the boating public by giving them an opportunity to seek justice and restitution for criminal acts.

In conclusion, Jeff is dedicated to the boating safety mission and demonstrates this throughout the year, not just during “boating season.” He is very organized, produces top quality reports and documentation, and maintains equipment in good working order for immediate use.

Game Warden Braxton Harris

Texas Game Warden Braxton Harris’s patrol assignment is Burnet County. One of the fastest growing counties in Texas, Burnet County is located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, with almost 1,000 square miles of beautiful lakes and rolling hills. The county encompasses five major reservoirs, collectively known as the Highland Lakes. In addition to his patrols on the Highland Lakes chain, Braxton is responsible for enforcement activities on the Colorado River and the surrounding county. These efforts have been hugely effective in preventing accidents and removing intoxicated operators from the lakes. Braxton’s dedication and enthusiasm is contagious as other wardens patrol with him and learn from his efforts and examples.

Since joining the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 2008, Braxton has filed 1,376 cases accounting for $67,854 in fine revenue. In 2014 Braxton patrolled area lakes and rivers for a total of 322 boat hours while staying within a very restrictive district budget. Braxton also patrolled approximately 22,000 miles on Texas highways, county roads, and ranch roads.

Those patrol efforts have resulted in 115 Parks and Wildlife Code and Penal Code violations investigated in 2014. Braxton has made 15 arrests for Boating while Intoxicated (BWI) on the Highland Lakes and has assisted with numerous BWIs within the district. His aggressive patrol efforts benefited the community/district with keeping the Highland Lakes safe and free of boating related fatalities.

In addition, Braxton’s outreach efforts for 2014 resulted in over 2,860 youths being introduced to outdoor activities including water safety related programs.

Braxton’s ability to read people and react appropriately is very important in all aspects of Community Oriented Policing. He is very open-minded and maintains a can-do attitude even when the situation is bad. Braxton is an outstanding team player who can work with anyone and create a positive environment for others. He fosters good relationships with the community, local landowners and law enforcement within the area and maintains those relationships in a positive manner.

Conservation Police Officer Cameron S. Dobyns

Conservation Police Officer Cameron Dobyns is an eight-year veteran of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Law Enforcement Division. Assigned to Essex County, he routinely patrols the major rivers in his district and a portion of the Chesapeake Bay.

During 2014, Cameron was the leader in his district for boat enforcement. He logged 737 boat hours, inspecting 328 vessels and 541 anglers. He performed field sobriety tests on 10 boat operators, resulting in two boating under the influence arrests and an underage possession of alcohol case. In addition, he made a driving under the influence arrest that transpired from a prior illegal boating activity. He made 48 boating activity related arrests and gave 90 warnings for various other boating and fishing violations detected during boat patrols.

Cameron is a lead instructor and has contributed to the division’s readiness in boating enforcement by assisting with the region’s training for the new seated field sobriety tests implemented in 2014. He instructed the Emergency Pursuit and Tactical Maneuver Course as part of the Live Fire scenario training exercise. His instructor training evaluations during the year were exceptional. As an FTO and instructor, he assisted in preparing four new probationary officers by successfully acclimating them to their first boat patrol experiences on the waterways of Virginia.

With each inspection and contact with the public, Cameron provides a boating safety message along with any enforcement action he may take to ensure that the public is aware and educated about boating safety. His pleasant demeanor and cordial conversation style ensures that the message is well received. Dobyns provides a public service through his actions in assisting boaters in distress when necessary and did so on eight occasions throughout the year.

Officer Dobyns is a highly respected officer and leader in his district who is strongly committed to boating safety and education. His standards and appearance are beyond reproach. He’s an excellent choice to represent our Agency and Law Enforcement Division as the NASBLA Boating Officer of the Year for 2014.

Officer Andrew L. Lyons
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Andrew L. Lyons is a dedicated officer with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. He teaches the agency’s boating education course to the public with conviction. Being raised in the area he knows firsthand the dangers of the Greenbrier and the New River. He is also an authority on Bluestone Lake. He has vast knowledge of how the Bluestone lays, which has enabled him to train all area officers on how to navigate through its waters. Officer Lyons also shares this knowledge with the public through his routine duties. About 69 navigable river miles run through Summers County and Officer Lyons prides himself on being familiar with every part. One of Officer Lyons’ favorite details to work is floating the rivers in his kayak. He personally schedules these details and orchestrates kayak trips with his fellow officers.

Officer Lyons stresses boater safety with every person he encounters on the water. He also uses these safety check compliances to meet new people and build rapport with everyone he meets. He prides himself on professionalism and being a public servant. Employing a strong work ethic, Officer Lyons has earned the respect of all his fellow officers and peers. He can be counted on in every aspect of his job and is on-call ready at a moment’s notice.

Officer Lyons is responsible for the largest lake in his district. He spent 217 hours on the water for 2014. He completed 153 safety and compliance checks, assisted 15 boats, assisted 85 persons, and investigated one boating incident.

In his nomination, Col. Jerry Jenkins stated, “I have personally spent many hours on the water with Officer Lyons. He is, without hesitation, one of the finest officers that I have had the pleasure to work with. He is a tremendous asset to the Division and I am proud to serve with him. Officer Lyons is a true testament of what an officer should be. He is to be commended for a job well done.”


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