Local law enforcement officer honored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A Northern Virginia law enforcement officer received national recognition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for going beyond the call of duty to save a life, officials with the agency said Wednesday.

Gareth Williams, of the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Prince William and Fairfax counties, was one of five officers nationwide to receive the 2011 Refuge Officer of the Year award for helping to save the life of Washington-area resident.

In March 2010, Williams was patrolling the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck refuge in Lorton when he saw a car parked oddly near a trail, Fish and Wildlife Service officials said. He checked the tags to see if an alert had been issued; none had. Fairfax County police stopped investigating, but Williams continued to look into the matter. He found out that the driver’s landlord and employer hadn’t seen her for days and that the driver’s daughter had filed a missing persons report, noting that her mother suffered from depression.

Based on the information Williams gathered, county police launched a search and found the woman lying shoeless and disoriented a half a mile from the car in subfreezing temperatures. She had swallowed a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol. She was taken to a hospital and recovered, but Fish and Wildlife Service officials said that if it had not been for Williams’s persistence, she probably would have died.

Williams, who lives in the greater Washington region patrols not only Mason Neck, but also the Featherstone and Occoquan refuges in Prince William.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has honored officers in five of its eight national regions for “several years,” said Martha Nudel, communications director for the organization. Williams serves in the Northeast region, which extends from Virginia up to Maine.

The award goes to officers who have done “extraordinary work,” saved lives or gone above their everyday duties, Nudel said. Currently there are 270 full-time and 130 dual-function uniformed officers that protect and enforce the law at the 553 national wildlife refuges, Nudel said, noting dual officers both protect and manage the refuges. Other winners in 2011 came from Illinois, Montana, Oklahoma and the Caribbean Islands.

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