Lost (and found) in the Rifle River Rec Area

Harvey indicates a find by sitting in front of the lost Tiffany Kotalik. Brad Freeman hands Kotalik a bag of treats to give to Harvey as a reward. “Harvey is still in training,” Freeman’s wife, Sandy, said.

By Patti Brehler

LUPTON – The victim, Tiffani Kotalik of Lupton, was last seen entering the archery range at the Rifle River Recreation Area (RRRA) on Friday night. “She’s wearing a yellow hoodie and dark Carhartt’s,” Erin Veitengruber said to the 20 some volunteers gathered at the site the following Sunday morning, April 10.

SAROM dog handler Brad Freeman, of Tawas, struggles through the heavy, wet snow as Harvey, the tracking bloodhound, follows the lost woman’s scent through dense woods. Harvey’s team included Freeman’s wife, Sandy, and Nathan Veitengruber, of West Branch.
SAROM dog handler Brad Freeman, of Tawas, struggles through the heavy, wet snow as Harvey, the tracking bloodhound, follows the lost woman’s scent through dense woods. Harvey’s team included Freeman’s wife, Sandy, and Nathan Veitengruber, of West Branch.

In an unseasonably cold and wet April, more than eight inches of snow slowly melted in the woods. Members of Search and Rescue of Michigan (SAROM), the Lupton Fire Department, area Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), and other volunteers came prepared for an extendedsearch, dressed in warm clothes and waterproof boots.

Veitengruber, of West Branch and a member of SAROM, coordinated the search with the help of Elizabeth “Buffy” Kay Carr, emergency management coordinator for Ogemaw, Alcona, and Oscoda Counties. With SAROM’s mobile command set up and CB radios checked, the group divided into teams to receive maps and search assignments in high probability areas.

Becky Moore, of Spruce (right) instructs 11 year-old Tony Scott, of Lupton (left), to give her dog Bella a treat after the 14 month-old dog found him in the heated bathrooms of the modern campground. Moore started working Bella last June and joined SAROM in Jan. The boy stayed “lost” while other teams practiced finding him.
Becky Moore, of Spruce (right) instructs 11 year-old Tony Scott, of Lupton (left), to give her dog Bella a treat after the 14 month-old dog found him in the heated bathrooms of the modern campground. Moore started working Bella last June and joined SAROM in Jan. The boy stayed “lost” while other teams practiced finding him.

A team with a tracking dog was dispatched to the archery range; another team worked an area search dog from the opposite direction; a third team went to visually “clear” a playground area on the shores of Grousehaven Lake. The dogs wore GPS tracking collars that were monitored on computers by another team back at the mobile command site.

Less than two hours later, a cold but unhurt Kotalik was found in dense brush along the shores of Grousehaven Lake.

Fortunately, Kotalik was also a volunteer and not really lost “I wandered right through the water Friday night,” she said, referring to when she came out to the park with Lupton firefighter Candy Symanski to “set” her tracks in preparation for Sunday’s rescue. The search and rescue was a staged drill and included a second search at the RRRA’s modern campground so other SAROM dogs could practice.

Liberty (Libby) Landris and Denise Rooker, both of Fairview and horse-mounted members of the Oscoda County CERT, came out to help even though they could not run their horses for the drill. Horses are not allowed in the RRRA, but if this had been a real search and rescue, horses would have been used.

After the successful search and rescue, the group met at the New Sunrise Café in Lupton for debriefing.

Carr said that SAROM and area CERTs conduct monthly drills; members take turns coordinating locations and scenarios. She said that sometimes the drills are held at events such as the Nor-east’r Music Festival in June and the Ogemaw County Fair in August. Carr added that area CERTs are in need of more volunteers and even if you are not up to trudging through the woods, “we need folks to do sit down help too.” Call 989-826-2397 for more information on Alcona, Ogemaw, or Oscoda County CERTs.

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