DNR conservation officer rescues injured, elderly man in Mason County

Contact: Lt. Joe Molnar, 231-922-6061
Agency: Natural Resources

Aug. 5, 2021

At 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, dispatchers in Lake County received a 911 emergency call from a man who said he had fallen and broken his back.

The call then dropped because of poor reception.

Unfortunately, the call hadn't lasted long enough for computer systems at the dispatch center to track the location of the caller. Deputies at the Lake County Sheriff's Office began trying to determine whom the phone number was registered to.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Josiah Killingbeck was on patrol when he heard about the distress call from Lake County Dispatch personnel. Consulting other officers, Killingbeck learned the phone number belonged to a 75-year-old man from Hudsonville.

The man's son told police his dad had gone to the Whiskey Creek area, southeast of Ludington. He planned to get tree stands ready for the upcoming deer hunting season.

The son said his dad's truck should be parked alongside the road.

"Whether you are hunting, hiking or trail riding you should always share your plans with a family member or friend," said Lt. Joe Molnar of the DNR Law Enforcement Division. "In the plan, you should list where you are going to be and when you expect to return. You should also include any alternate locations you may be at, in case weather or other conditions change your plans. Sharing this information could be the difference between life and death if you are injured and cannot call for help."

Killingbeck went to the location and discovered tire tracks on a two-track road heading east. He followed the tracks to an unmarked road. At 9:39 p.m., Killingbeck found the man's parked, red GMC pickup truck.

The location is very remote. The GPS system in Killingbeck's truck was not providing road names for the area and he had no cellphone service.

"I had Report All Poaching dispatch take the GPS coordinates from my radio and give them to Mason Dispatch to assist in getting other resources into the area," Killingbeck said.

He then began searching the area surrounding the truck and found a faint walking path going north. Soon afterward, he found a set of footprints on a dirt bike trail. Killingbeck had been told the man should be off the west side of the trail.

Killingbeck began calling out for the man through the woods. He heard nothing back until he got to about 50 yards from him, when he heard the man's voice calling out weakly.

At 9:53 p.m., nearly 11 hours since he fell, the man was found at the base of a large oak tree, lying on his right side. A tree stand was on the ground, just above the man's head.

The man told Killingbeck he was about 30 feet above the ground attempting to get the tree stand out of the oak, when he grabbed a dead branch and fell. He told Killingbeck he could not call for help sooner because he did not have cellphone service.

More emergency support began to arrive in the area. A Michigan State Police trooper helped direct personnel to the place where Killingbeck was attending to the man. An initial inspection found no obvious fractures or open tissue injuries.

At 11:30 p.m., the man was carried out of the woods on a backboard, complaining of significant pain in his lower back, buttocks and right shoulder, leg and knee. He was airlifted to a trauma center for treatment of his injuries.

As the fall hunting seasons approach, more people will be heading to the woods. Check out some helpful safety information.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect residents by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.

Learn more about Michigan conservation officers at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers.