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Safety prime goal of lake patrols
Water cops handle the mundane while also keeping an eye out for dangerous problems.

 Conservation Officers Steve Hicks (left) and Mark Shull patrol 13,000-acre Lake Anna on a recent afternoon for safety issues and fishing license violations.
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Date published: 8/19/2011

BY SCOTT SHENK

The 300-horsepower outboard motor gurgles as conservation Officer Mark Shull maneuvers the patrol boat on the calm Lake Anna water, nudging close to a pontoon boat with four men aboard.

Shull's partner, Steve Hicks, moves onto the bow and introduces himself as a conservation officer with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Two older men sit on the pontoon's bow, fishing poles in hand, and a pair of younger men rest on the back after having taken a dip in the lake.

Hicks asks the men if they've had any luck, and one of them holds up a haul of 10 catfish.

Then he asks if they have their fishing licenses. One of them doesn't, so he gets a $60 citation.

After filling out the citation form and some small talk, the officers pull away.

"Does that mean I can keep fishing?" the man asks.

"I can't tell you what to do," Hicks says, warning him that other patrol officers might ticket him, too.

On a recent Saturday, Hicks and Shull make their way around much of the 13,000-acre lake during their shift.

Usually on Saturdays, boats and jet skis fill the lake created by Dominion Virginia Power to cool its nuclear reactors, keeping the officers on constant alert for safety issues. But intermittent showers have scared off many boaters on this day.

During much of the eight-hour shift, the officers deal mostly with anglers enjoying the calm water. About a half-dozen were cited for fishing without a license.

The lake usually is a swirl of wakes caused by weekend boaters pulling squealing kids on rafts and jet skis zooming about spouting arches of water.

"Usually on a Saturday, the water'd be beating us," says Shull, who has patrolled these waters for 31 years as a conservation officer for VDGIF.

During the busy summer weekends on the lake, and other Virginia bodies of water, patrol officers with VDGIF and other law enforcement agencies focus largely on safety.

Shull and Hicks still did safety checks on each boat they stopped during their recent shift, but that is usually a bigger part of their job.

Boat crashes don't happen every day, but they can be bad when they do happen.


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Accidents

Fatalities

2011

89

13

2010

105

15

2009

136

25

2008

95

17

2007

145

23

2006

137

23

Accidents

Fatalities

2011

5

0

2010

7

1

2009

16

0

2008

8

0

2007

14

0

2006

10

1