Episode 5 “Free Falling”
Disclaimer: All names have been intentionally changed.
Fences and “No Trespassing” signs keep honest people away from private property. They do little to prevent the determined and unlawful act of people intentionally circumventing the law. This was one of those times.
I was on night patrol during a full moon in the woods of north Lake County in central Florida. A system of paved roads ended at a 40-acre piece of private property which was heavily fenced and posted with “No Trespassing” signs placed every 50 feet along the fence and at all access points into the property. It was clear the landowner was having a problem with people unlawfully slipping into his private property without his permission. A large radio tower reaching towards the sky was at the center of the property and was rimmed with a barbed wire fence.
I regularly checked this piece of property when I was in the area since the landowner was having so many problems with people trespassing. The property was teaming with deer and wild turkeys, and I occasionally caught people trying to poach one of these targeted species because the property was so remote.
At around 10:30 PM, I located a small sports car parked at the front gate to the property. The car did not fit the normal vehicle description of a hunter, which is usually a pickup truck or larger car. I parked my patrol truck and set out on foot to see what the person or people were up to. I was proficient in man tracking and often served as a man tracking instructor annually at our law enforcement academy. With a bright full moon, I was able to track two people into the property without needing to use my flashlight. I followed the tracks for several hundred yards before turning down a road leading to the tower.
I followed the tracks to an open field next to the large radio tower before losing which direction the two people went. I stood in the small field next to the tower trying to figure out what to do next. From out of nowhere, I heard two loud “Pops” and a whirling sound above me! I was startled and looked up. Much to my surprise, I saw two people parachuting above me in the moonlight. The two parachutists climbed to the top of the tower and jumped off! I stood there for a moment in disbelief and amazement and quickly realized my task at hand, arresting trespassers! I did my best chameleon move and tried to blend in with the only object around, a chain link fence surrounding the tower.
The two parachutists circled the tower going around and round narrowly missing the metal guidewire supports with each pass. I thought to myself that the two parachutists were extremely skilled and had probably done this before in the daylight. The men landed softly in the field where I was previously standing. One man yelled to the other, “Hurry! We have to get out of here!”. Both men quickly stuffed their parachutes into their backpacks and then took off at a run towards their car. Fortunately, I was doing a good job passing as a chameleon and was blending into a chain link fence. I was directly in their path! I jumped in front of the 2 running men and illuminated them with my bright light and stopped them in their tracks! Both men were placed under arrest for trespassing!
At the jail, I learned more about the two base jumpers. One of the men was a skydiving instructor at a nearby airport and frequently took interested skydivers to the remote tower for a thrill-seeking good time. The tower became a well-known destination in the skydiving community worldwide because the remoteness of the tower, which provided a better than excellent chance for base jumping (skydiving from a fixed object) without being caught. Fortunately for me, I was in the right place at the right time!
Note: Years later, after I moved from the area, a man was trespassing and parachuted off the tower. During his descent, the man had difficulty controlling his parachute and landed straddling a live powerline! He suffered serious burns and was airlifted to a hospital from the remote area in serious condition.
By Steve Wayne
About the Author:
Steve Wayne has spent 30 years as a Fish and Wildlife Officer in the state of Florida. Steve has worked in various roles and locations throughout the state and has promoted to the level of Area Captain supervising 30 officers in 3 counties. During his career, Steve was selected as the State Wildlife Officer of the Year and 16 years later was selected as the Statewide Investigator of the Year by both his agency and from the State Law Enforcement Chief’s Association. In 2019, Steve was part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Port Investigations team which received national honors as Team of the Year.