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COs investigate target practice by fire light

UP field reports

A sampling of field reports from Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers in the Upper Peninsula:

Aug. 23 through Sept. 5

DISTRICT 1

Conservation Officers Brian Lasanen and Zach Painter were on patrol in Ontonagon County and investigated gun shots that they heard. The COs drove by a residence in the area of where they had heard the shots and noticed a large fire with no one around. The COs pulled into the driveway and could smell what seemed to be burning rubber. The COs made contact with an individual who advised they were burning an old trailer. When asked about the gun shots, the subject stated that they had been shooting at the burning trailer. The COs took a closer look at the fire and could see parts of the trailer still burning including plastic, insulation, and several tires. The subject was told to put the fire out and was cited for unlawful disposal of solid waste.

CO Shannon Kritz was patrolling a portion of Menominee County with high ORV activity when she observed an abandoned side-by-side on the roadway. The side-by-side had damage in the front and damage to the passenger side windshield. CO Kritz looked inside the side-by-side, which smelled heavily of intoxicants with beer bottles and blood scattered throughout the interior. CO Kritz had the side-by-side towed and met with the owner later that evening. The owner admitted to operating the side-by-side after he had been drinking and stated he swerved for a deer and hit an embankment on the side of the road. CO Kritz also spoke with the passenger of the side-by-side who had injuries to his face because he was not wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash. A report will be submitted to the Menominee County prosecutor for leaving the scene of an accident/failing to report an accident.

COs Jeffrey Dell and Shannon Kritz were patrolling a section of river when they observed a pontoon with four people fishing on it. The COs observed the anglers for some time before making contact. Upon contact, three out of the four anglers produced a valid fishing license. The fourth stated she was not fishing and did not need a license. CO Dell informed her that he had watched her fish for some time. She asked the COs why they had to ruin a family outing. CO Dell informed her that she set the tone for the contact when she began the interaction by lying to the COs. The woman was issued a citation for fishing without a license.

CO Cody Smith was on patrol in Baraga County when an ORV came around a corner at such a high rate of speed, it caused the machine to drift. CO Smith activated his emergency lights as the ORV approached. The ORV maintained its speed as it passed CO Smith. It was noticed that the ORV was missing a trail permit as CO Smith spun around to stop the vehicle. As CO Smith caught up to the ORV, it turned into a dense section of woods that at one time was a logging trail. CO Smith activated his siren in a last attempt to stop the vehicle. The ORV sped over a berm and blazed a trail through thick vegetation, small trees, stumps, and dirt piles. The ORV then went down a steep hill into a ravine where it blew the front window off the machine along with the left front tire. As CO Smith caught up on foot, the occupant fled the vehicle with their backpack, attempting to scale a hill. After falling multiple times, the individual gave up. The individual was taken into custody without further incident. A search of the subject’s backpack revealed methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. The individual was lodged and faces charges including possession of methamphetamine, flee and elude, operate ORV on a suspended license, no ORV sticker, operate ORV in closed area, operate ORV causing erosive conditions, and damage to trees.

CO Jeremy Sergey received a complaint that two goose hunters out on public land were approached by an individual on a side-by-side. The individual on the side-by-side pulled out a 12-gauge shot gun and shot twice at the hunters from about 15 yards away. The individual then told the hunters he was going to kill them. The individual got back on his side-by-side and sped away. COs Jeremy Sergey, Josh Boudreaux and Sgt. Mark Leadman responded to the area and gathered evidence. The two hunters were able to retrieve their belongings with assistance from CO Sergey. The case is still under investigation.

CO Josh Boudreaux was checking waterfowl hunters on Forestville Basin in Marquette County when he came across of group of 17-year-olds excited to finally be out hunting on their own. As CO Boudreaux conducted his standard waterfowl checks, he began discovering violation after violation. There were unplugged guns, an unused box of lead shot, there were no personal flotation devices for anyone in the canoe, and one of the individuals did not have his proper licenses. CO Boudreaux instructed the group to pack up their stuff and meet him at his truck. CO Boudreaux carried the two unplugged shotguns back to his truck and returned with two PFDs so those in the canoe could safely paddle back to their vehicle with their gear. Back at the truck CO Boudreaux had a lengthy discussion with the hunters about waterfowl hunting regulations and the reasoning behind them along with the potential repercussions. CO Boudreaux then assisted two of the young hunters with making plugs for their guns to restrict the capacity to three shells total. Two citations were issued for no PFDs and waterfowl hunting digests were distributed to the group. Warnings were issued for the multiple hunting violations.

DISTRICT 2

Near the end of their shift, COs Mark Zitnik and Andrea Dani were dispatched to Osier Road in Delta County to assist 11 canoers who were reported overdue on the river. The Boy Scout group planned to traverse the East Branch of the Whitefish River from Trout Lake in Alger County to the Osier Road Bridge in Delta County. The trip began at 8 a.m. that morning, but responders knew most people require two days to complete the trip. The canoers were reported overdue by the person who was supposed to pick them up who had not heard from them in some time. The two COs assisted the US Forest Service, Delta County Sheriff’s Department and Delta County Search and Rescue. The COs agreed to go upriver on foot with two Delta County Search and Rescue crew members and located two 12-year-old boys that had separated from the group. The boys were soaked from repeated flips of their kayaks and very cold due to the now 46- degree air. The responding group provided the boys with food, clothing, and even CO Zitnik’s boots to wear out of the swamp, as one of the boys had lost his shoes in the river. The boys were excited to see the responders and confided that they believed they were going to die. Neither of the boys had major injuries and were treated with warmth from a search and rescue trailer. The rest of the group members were located around the same time and transported out by the Search and Rescue team on ORVs. None of the canoers were injured.

CO Todd Sumbera was patrolling Mackinac County when he watched an individual catch and place a fish on the bank and then continue to fish. After observing the angler for a while, CO Sumbera contacted the individual, finding a 6.5-inch brook trout on shore next to him. The individual stated that he was getting ready to throw the fish back real soon, after he fixed his hook. A citation was issued for possessing an undersized trout.

Sept. 6 through Sept. 19

DISTRICT 1

COs Shannon Kritz and Jeff Dell received a complaint about a bear that was registered by somebody other than the licensed hunter. The COs interviewed the licensed hunter and her husband who registered the bear. The licensed hunter struggled to describe where she was when she shot the bear or identify the sex of the bear. The COs went to the camp where the bear was taken but the evidence did not match up with the wife’s story. The COs proceeded to interview a witness who also claimed the license holder shot the bear. The next day, the COs obtained a search warrant for the camp and the cellphone of the witness. COs Dell and Kritz were assisted by Sgt. Brian Bacon and CO Anna Viau with executing the search warrant of the camp. Three days later, CO Kritz received a phone call from the witness saying that his father wanted to confess and tell her what happened. CO Kritz re-interviewed the couple and the license holder admitted to loaning her bear tag to her husband who proceeded to confess to shooting the bear the day before the season opened and using his wife’s tag. A report will be submitted to the Dickinson County prosecutor for the violations.

DISTRICT 2

COs Andrea Dani and Mark Zitnik were on patrol during bear season near a camp when they heard a gunshot and subsequently contacted the hunter. The hunter was excited to see the COs, as she was completely alone. Her husband and son were downstate for the youth hunt. The hunter advised this was not her first or biggest bear, but that she would appreciate a hand tracking and transporting the bear back to the camp. The group worked together to locate the bear and the COs assisted in loading the bear onto the hunter’s four-wheeler.

COs Chris Lynch and Steve Butzin were on patrol when a vehicle began swerving in and out of its lane of travel. A traffic stop was conducted and upon investigation of the driver, it was determined he was on parole for possession of cocaine and the passenger had a warrant out for her arrest. A search of the vehicle was conducted, and a substance was located. Upon testing the substance, it tested positive for methamphetamine. The passenger was placed under arrest for her warrant and lodged in the Delta County Jail and a report is being submitted to the Delta County Prosecutor’s Office for review for the charges of possession of methamphetamine and violation of the conditions of parole.

COs Steve Butzin and Chris Lynch received a complaint of an individual shooting a great blue heron out of a residence in Masonville Township. COs Butzin and Lynch searched the area of the complaint and located a deceased great blue heron that appeared to be several days old. An interview was conducted on a suspect who ultimately confessed to shooting the protected bird with a rifle while in violation of eight different safety zones. A report is being submitted to the Delta County Prosecutor’s Office.

CO Cole VanOosten assisted the Michigan State Police with an investigation involving multiple burglaries at hunting camps in northern Luce County. Several items were stolen from multiple residences; one of the items stolen was a Polaris ORV. A suspect was identified and contacted by CO VanOosten and Trooper Jeramiah Parks. During the interviews, CO VanOosten observed several ORV tracks around the residence and leading into the woods. When asked about the tracks, the suspect stated that those were from his buddy who brought up an ORV the previous weekend. When confronted with the fact that tracks from the past weekend would have been washed away from the recent rain, the suspect stated that the tracks must have come from people who had trespassed on his property earlier that day. CO VanOosten and Trooper Parks took wheelbase measurements and confirmed that the ORV matched the one stolen from the hunting camp. Despite this, the suspect denied any involvement in the burglaries. As the officers were leaving the residence, they noticed ORV tracks turning out of the driveway towards a dense swamp and footprints returning to the camp. The tracks led to the neighbor’s house who stated that the suspect had driven an ORV matching the description of the stolen ORV to their house that morning to drop off a trailer he had borrowed. The officers followed the tracks further down the road approximately a quarter of a mile where they located the stolen ORV hidden in some dense vegetation. After further interviews, the suspect confessed to stealing the ORV and stated that the keys were hidden in a stump in the woods. The ORV was returned to the rightful owners and search warrants were served at the suspect’s residence where additional stolen items were located that linked his involvement to five recent burglaries in the area.

Conservation officers are fully licensed peace officers who enforce laws related to fish and wildlife, state parks, trails and forests, and outdoor recreation activities such as off-road vehicle use, snowmobiling and boating. They are also first responders to a variety of natural disasters and emergencies.

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