Staff Spotlight, 2022 Award of Valor

Brian Fugate and BJ Givens present the 2022 Award of Valor to the Koreshan State Park team.

Staff Spotlight, Zachary Lozano, Nicole Ross, Justin Lamb and Jenny Grow

Zachary Lozano, Nicole Ross, Justin Lamb and Jenny Grow are the recipients of the 2022 Award of Valor.

On April 22, 2022, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Law Enforcement received a call for assistance from the Lee County Sheriff's Office regarding a missing hiker within the Estero Bay Preserve State Park.

The 65-year-old hiker was last seen by her husband near trails at the Winkler Road entrance to the park.

While en route to the call, the FWC officer contacted Park Manager Zach Lozano to brief him on the incident. Due to the difficult terrain in the area, Zach immediately recognized that he and his staff could be of assistance to first responders. A short time later, Zach arrived with two side-by-side machines and three park rangers, Jenny Grow, Nicole Ross and Justin Lamb, to assist.

By this time, the missing woman had been spotted by a sheriff’s office drone near Hendry Creek. Unfortunately, the drone lost sight of the missing woman when she continued into a section of heavy vegetation. Zach and his staff realized that their equipment and familiarity with the area made them more likely than other first responders to get closer to that section of the property.

Due to environmental conditions, they spent much of this time searching on foot, at times in mud up to their thighs or crawling through very difficult and dangerous terrain. The team located signs of footprints through the mud and followed it as far as they could. Eventually, all searchers were asked to return to the staging area to give the sheriff’s office helicopter a chance to sweep the property with its FLIR system after dark.

Upon returning to the incident command, Zach’s team was able to provide valuable information regarding the terrain and the exact locations where they had found signs of the missing woman.

A short time later, she was spotted deep inside an area of heavy mangrove growth and search parties once again responded to that location. Three FWC officers, two firefighters and one deputy were able to locate the missing woman. After abandoning their off-road vehicles, they had to traverse approximately a mile through waist-deep mud.

Ultimately, the woman was found just a few hundred yards from the location where Zach’s team had tracked her. The terrain was so difficult to navigate that a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was called in to extract the hiker.

After she was aboard the helicopter, the searchers made their way to Hendry Creek, where they were picked up by a sheriff’s office vessel and brought to Lovers Key State Park.

Zack and his team played a pivotal role in the rescue.

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