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Conservation Officers Honored at Michigan Natural Resources Commission Meeting

Conservation Officers

Photo Courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Three conservation officers were honored at the Michigan Natural Resources Commission Meeting on Nov. 10.

According to Michigan DNR, the department recognized conservation officers Tyler Sabuda, Andrea Erratt and retired Cpl. Ivan Perez.

Conservation Officer Tyler Sabuda was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award after risking his life to save the driver of a submerged car in the Au Sable River.

On July 13, Officer Sabuda received a call regarding a fully submerged car in the Au Sable River near Cooke Dam in Oscoda. The driver, Joseph Sand, 82, of Davison was trapped inside.

Michigan DNR says the water temperature was 72 degrees and the air temperature was 69 degrees. At the location just below the Cooke Dam, the river is about 230 feet wide and has a fast-moving current.

Sand and Rodney Weinzierl, 70, of Millington, were visiting Sand’s property nearby, and had stopped at the lower Cooke Dam boat launch, where Weinzierl got out to smoke a cigar. He says that Sand was turning the car around and somehow drove into the river.

Officer Sabuda arrived at the scene around 4:19 p.m., and when he reached the edge of the water, he could see the red car completely submerged in six feet of water about 125 feet downstream of the launch and about 50 feet from the river’s edge.

He was told by a bystander that Sand was in the car, and nobody had yet to attempt to enter the water.

Officer Sabuda removed his uniform in preparation for a water rescue. Shortly after, Greg Alexander, an officer with the Oscoda Township Police Department, arrived on scene and prepared to enter the water as well.

Officer Sabuda entered the river with his DNR-issued inflatable life vest and window punch. As he approached the car, he could see Sand in the driver’s seat with his seatbelt on and driver’s window down.

Fighting the current, Officer Sabuda forced the door partially open, but the current kept closing the door on his body while he attempted to remove Sand from the car. Officer Alexander then arrived and was able to hold open the door so Sabuda could dive under the water and remove Sand from the car.

Officers Sabuda and Alexander put the life vest on Sand and began swimming against the current towards shore. They received help from an individual on a kayak in getting back to shore.

As Officer Sabuda approached land, he asked a firefighter to retrieve his automated external defibrillator out of his patrol truck. When Officer Sabuda arrived on shore, Danny Gallahar, an officer with the Oscoda Township Police Department, handed Sabuda his AED.

Officer Gallahar began CPR on Sand while Officer Sabuda prepped Sand for treatment with the AED. The AED advised no shock, so Officer Sabuda ran to his patrol truck, grabbed his Ambu Bag and returned to provide rescue breaths while Officer Gallahar did chest compressions.

The AED then again advised no shock. Around 4:33 p.m., paramedics arrived and took Sand to a local hospital in Tawas City. Sand was pronounced dead at 5:06 p.m.

“Sabuda selflessly put his life in harm’s way, in an attempt to save another, without hesitation,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Sabuda received numerous cuts and bruises due to the harsh environment of the riverbed and fast current. While the outcome of events was unfortunate, it doesn’t change the exemplary courage displayed by Sabuda.”

Conservation Officer Andrea Erratt received the 2019 Shikar Safari Office of the Year award, which is the DNR Law Enforcement Division’s highest honor awarded annually.

Erratt began her career as a conservation officer in Nov. 1997.

Michigan DNR says during her first month, Officer Erratt made 25 arrests for violations, including loaded guns in cars, illegal deer, untagged deer and traps and two drunk drivers.

Officer Erratt patrolled for almost 10 years each in Cheboygan and Charlevoix Counties. She is currently assigned to Antrim County.

During her career, Officer Erratt helped to resolve a variety of violations on behalf of the Michigan DNR and Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

This includes: fish, game, snowmobile, marine, ORV, illegal burning, timber theft, litter and illegal disposal of waste.

Some of her accomplishments include:

  • Collecting over $22,000 in reimbursements due to game arrests, including illegal bull and cow elk, deer, trumpeter swan, bobcat, mink, otter and nonresident license fee cases.
  • Receiving a grant from International Wildlife Crimestoppers, Inc., for a new mechanical deer decoy and additional funding from the Charlevoix Rod and Gun Club.
  • Preparing 14 briefs for prosecution cases, ranging from unregistered snowmobiles and illegal burning to illegal deer and fish snagging.
  • Receiving a 2020 Citation of Professional Excellence for assisting with a hunter casualty investigation that resulted in a manslaughter conviction.
  • Locating more than 90 individuals with illegal blinds and tree stands, which she found by patrolling state land on foot.

“Erratt is an exemplary conservation officer and conducts herself with the highest level of professionalism, which makes her a role model in the community and to other officers,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Her enthusiasm and dedication to the resources and her team make her an outstanding game warden.”

Retired Cpl. Ivan Perez was the recipient of the 2020 Shikar Safari Officer of the Year award.

According to Michigan DNR, Cpl. Perez is a Texas native who grew up hunting and fishing, and was interested in pursuing a career as a conservation officer.

He enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, and was stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Saginaw River, where he met conservation officers who docked their boats at the same pier.

In 1995, Cpl. Perez became a conservation officer and was assigned to Ottawa County.

During his 26-year career, Perez was involved in many investigations and prosecutions. These include: boating fatalities, working undercover to stop the spread of an invasive species in Michigan, and several significant trophy deer and turkey investigations.

In 2019, Perez was promoted to a marine specialist corporal in the Law Enforcement Division’s Recreational Safety Education and Enforcement section. He was the first person to be placed in the new position.

Michigan DNR says within a year, Cpl. Perez investigated 10 permanent watercraft controls, or special rules for boating, and 10 temporary local watercraft controls, which required extensive communication and data collection.

Cpl. Perez also researched local boating events and contacted the event coordinators to ensure the presence and participation of conservation officers.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Cpl. Perez helped to establish online boating safety classes for many state and federal entities, so more people could safely enjoy the outdoors.

“Perez’s success can be attributed to his ability to create positive and long-lasting relationships within his community and local municipalities, including local, state and federal officials,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division.

To learn more about Michigan Conservation Officers and what they do,