TPWD Game Wardens use thermal drones to locate assault suspect, find lost Texans

‘This program saves lives,’ TWPD official says

Three recent incidents requiring game warden drone support and successful coordination with local law enforcement led to an arrest in east Texas and two rescues of lost individuals in the hill country. (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department drone program is helping local Texas law enforcement officers locate crime suspects and lost citizens.

Texas Game Warden Doug Williams recently helped locate a suspect in East Texas accused of shooting at and physically assaulting two individuals before fleeing, according to a press release.

Williams, who works with the Texas Game Warden Unmanned Arial System Program, received a request for assistance to help locate the suspect.

He used a thermal drone to circle an East Texas residence where police suspected the person was hiding and spotted a heat signature in the woods.

“Due to the freezing temperatures, the suspect was hiding in the brush curled in the fetal position. He was arrested and later treated for hypothermia,” the press release states.

In a separate incident, Texas Game Warden Michael Hummert, who is also part of the program, was able to locate an elderly man who disappeared in Dublin.

“The setting sun prevented us from locating him through usual means,” Hummert said. “The thermal drone picks up body heat, which is necessary to locate someone at night. With the cold creeping in, it was imperative to find him quickly.”

He was able to locate the man using cell phone records that gave a general location of the man’s whereabouts.

Nine days later in Bell County, federal officials reached out for assistance locating another missing person.

According to the press release, Hummert said the missing person’s family shared vital information about the person’s location while federal support provided robust mapping systems. The thermal drone technology was able to help locate the person who was returned home safely.

“The success is really about the right equipment. A helicopter is highly beneficial for any search and rescue but it’s not always practical in rural areas. Responding with a drone cuts your response time and cost, allowing for more versatility. I respond to anything from car accidents to bomb threats,” said Hummert.

“Game warden drone operators arrive first on scene to locate lost boaters and hikers. We search in the aftermath of natural disasters. At the end of the day, this program saves lives,” said program supervisor Matthew Bridgefarmer.

About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.