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Florida FWC Names 2009
Wildlife Officer Of The Year

February 24, 2009

Florida Wildlife Officer of the Year Bret GillHe pulled a woman from a burning car and saved her life. He's assisted in capturing a suspected murderer. He's arrested people for night hunting, illegal fishing, littering, drug possession and active felony warrants. He wrote 168 citations and warnings in 2008, which is impressive for the rural county where he works.

And now, Officer Bret Gill has been selected as the 2009 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.

In 2005, Gill started his career with the FWC in Union County.

"He has earned the respect of the citizens he serves through proactive and responsive law enforcement services and hard work," said Capt. Roy Brown, area supervisor. "Officer Gill possesses a uniquely patient investigative style that has proved very successful. If he catches a whisper of a possible resource violation, he doggedly pursues all leads, leaving no stone unturned."

The variety of Gill's impressive caseload further demonstrates his initiative and ability to get the job done, Brown explained.

Gill was traveling to Tallahassee for Special Operations Group (SOG) training when he saw two Florida Highway Patrol troopers attempting to arrest a subject who was violently resisting, Brown said. One trooper's hand was broken during the fray, and Gill's assistance made the difference in gaining control of the situation.

Before spring turkey season began, Gill was flying with Pilot Joe Johnston and located a site baited for turkeys with a blind close by. Because the site was so remote, he had to walk more than three miles to get to it. On opening morning of the spring gobbler season, he cited a subject for hunting turkey over bait.

"Officer Gill assisted the Union County Sheriff's Office with a manhunt for a murder suspect. After tracking the suspect for over a mile, he and a Department of Corrections K-9 officer captured the suspect," Brown said.

The officer also works complaints from landowners. Gill received a complaint from Plum Creek Timber Company of illegal dumping on its lands. Gill investigated the complaint and charged a suspect with felony littering.

"During the Fourth of July holiday, Officer Gill, accompanied by Officer Billy Giles, successfully rescued four children who were tube-floating down the Santa Fe River after they became separated from their parents. The officers located the kids several miles downriver and returned them to their very appreciative parents," Brown said.

The new officer of the year thrives on being in the woods. Gill arrested three subjects night hunting who had a doe deer in their possession. He was then able to learn through a thorough interview that the trio had killed another doe and had left it in the woods down the road. The landowner was very appreciative, as he had been experiencing ongoing problems with illegal hunting.

In November, Gill received information of illegal hunting activity occurring on a piece of private land in Union County. Gill made his way to the hunt camp on foot and set up surveillance. After the morning hunt, four hunters returned to the camp. One hunter was on an ATV dragging a doe deer.
Gill overheard one of the men say he had shot another doe and then left to retrieve it. A few minutes later the man returned with the doe deer in tow. Gill then made his presence known and charged two subjects with taking doe deer out of season. A third subject had warrants issued out of Arkansas for his arrest, and the authorities there wished to extradite. He also had a felony warrant issued out of Union County. The man was taken into custody.

"While he was making this case, Bret was watching the men so intensely from his concealed position that he overlooked the five-foot rattlesnake he sat down next to. If not for the cold weather that morning, the snake would surely have bitten him," Brown said.

Gill also saved a life. On July 18, the officer was off duty and in his personal vehicle traveling through Lake Butler, when he saw a woman running toward him in her nightgown. The woman told him about a vehicle that crashed and was on fire down the street.

Gill made his way around the corner and found a pickup truck that had struck a power pole and was on fire. He called 9-1-1 for assistance and then ran through a crowd of spectators to the blazing vehicle to find the driver pinned in the vehicle, burning.

Gill determined the driver was dead. He then went to the passenger side and found a woman alive, gasping for air, and flailing about the cab. Her legs were on fire. Gill forced the door open and pulled her out of the burning vehicle. He then rolled her on the ground repeatedly to extinguish the flames.
As Gill was doing what he could to aid the victim, the vehicle exploded.

"Apparently, the gas tank and ammunition stored in truck exploded," Brown said. "There were several bystanders who said they wouldn't have thought of going near the truck because they knew it was going to explode."

The woman was flown to Shands Burn Center in critical condition.

In the days following the accident, the victim, Michelle Davis Brannen, 28, of Macclenny, underwent surgery to amputate both her legs. She continues to improve and make progress toward recovery.

"Michelle, her family and community have repeatedly thanked Bret for his actions. And thanks to him, on Jan. 6, Michelle celebrated her 29th birthday," Brown said. "His actions were above and beyond the call of duty and deserved special recognition. Officer Gill was awarded the Medal of Valor with Lifesaving Commendation."

Gill is currently on the Law Enforcement Investigator I promotion list and is working toward attaining that goal in the future.

"Officer Gill has gained the respect of his supervisors, co-workers and the constituents he serves as a very capable and professional law enforcement officer," Brown said. "I'm proud that he's part of our team."

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