By Albert Burford | LSU Student
Since the agency's founding in 1872, seven Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (DWF) agents have lost their lives in the line of duty – all but one since 1991. These fallen agents have died from drowning, automobile accidents and gunfire.
DWF Public Information Officer Adam Einck said duties of the agency's approximately 200 enforcement officers entail dangerous situations.
"A wildlife and fisheries agent tackles a lot of things in a day to day patrol shift. They could be three miles out in the gulf in rough water and a storm will kick up... Or they could be patrolling at night on an ATV in woods. They're also by themselves a lot."
According to Major Peter Oliver, who has worked as a DWF enforcement agent for 21 years, there is no way around sometimes being the lone agent in a given situation. Agents are subject to call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Einck said DWF agents train for six months to help mitigate risk and are versed in the wide variety of scenarios they may find themselves.
Frank Fagot Jr., 31, the first DWF agent to die in the field, was shot and killed by a poacher he was attempting to arrest in 1927. He is the only agent to die from intended gunfire.
Situations like this are few and far between, as Oliver said it's rare that shots are fired at agents. He says that is because most people apprehend are hunters committing minor violations.
However, Oliver said DWF agents must take special precautions because nearly every person with whom they make contact in a hunting environment is armed.
"When [agents] are on duty, they are armed, full-fledged police officers. In addition to 45-caliber sidearm, they are issued Remington 870 shotguns, SIG Sauer rifles. A lot of them elect to arm themselves with backup weapons."
After Fagot, the next DWF officer to lose his life in action was Kenneth Aycock, 35, who drowned in 1991. Aycock was working boat patrol on the Ouachita River near the Louisiana-Arkansas state line at the time of the accident. The drowning was believed to have happen around 2 p.m. His body was recovered some six hours later.
A year later, Ricky Dodge died when his ATV flipped as he was driving up the embankment of a ditch while responding to a game violation. Dodge was 37 years old.
Oliver said he was in the academy at the time of Dodge's death, which occurred just about a mile and a half away from his home.
"He was out there by himself, as agents are more times than not. He's out there at night, trying to apprehend violators in difficult terrain. It's just the environment itself. It all adds to a very dangerous workplace."
Senior Agent Leon Henderson Jr., 36, was killed in a 1996 automobile accident while responding to a report of a drowning. Henderson's truck was struck by a large farm vehicle. Henderson was transported to a hospital where he died two weeks later. He was 36 years old and had worked for the department for 15 years.
Capt. John Garlington drowned in 2000 while investigating a report of illegal gill net fishing near his home in Bienville Parish. Garlington responded to the report in the early morning and wasn't heard from for several hours. He was 53 and had worked for DWF for 14 years.
Senior Agent Jim Matkin, 30, a six-year veteran, was killed in 2005 when his automobile struck a tree in the early morning hours while patrolling Highway 565 near Wildsville in Concordia Parish.
Sgt. Paul Stuckey is the most recent officer to die. Stuckey was responding to a report of night hunting in West Feliciana Parish on Sept. 30, 201, at approximately 2:15 a.m. Police investigators believe Stuckey's shotgun may have accidently discharged and shot him in the chest. Stuckey was 37years old and served for 18 years.