Tribute To A Ranger: The Rocky Wainwright Story

DNR Law Enforcement Cpl. Rocky Wainwright died in the line of duty assisting in the search for a lost girl.

Cpl. Brent Railey | November 1, 1999

Editor’s Note: In August, DNR Law Enforcement Cpl. Rocky Wainwright was killed in an ATV accident in Twiggs County. The following article was written by a conservation ranger who worked with Rocky.

DNR Law Enforcement Cpl. Rocky Wainwright of Thomaston was killed in an ATV accident in August while assisting in the search for a lost 11-year-old girl.

It is with a deep sense of loss that we with the Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Section bring word of the tragic death of one of our finest officers, Cpl. Rocky Wainwright.

Rocky died on Thursday, August 19, 1999 at about 10:30 a.m. as a result of massive injuries sustained in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident. At the time of the accident, Rocky was assisting in the search for a missing 11-year-old girl in northern Twiggs County. He was returning to his assigned search area from the command post with Ranger First Class Al White after picking up refreshments for the rest of their search group. 

In a descending curve, his 3-wheeled ATV left the roadway and struck a small group of pine trees. Rocky was thrown from the ATV and struck a nearby utility pole with his head and center of his chest. 

DNR Law Enforcement Sgt. Joe Buice (left) and Rodney Ellington, chairman of the Thomaston chapter of Ducks Unlimited, display a pair of mounted wood ducks and a certificate from DU presented in memory of Rocky. The display, donated by Mr. Ellington and the Wainwright family, will become the statewide Rocky Wainwright Waterfowl Award for the DNR waterfowl officer of the year.

Although there were several EMTs and trained rescue personnel on the scene within seconds and a rapid response from the ambulance service, Rocky was pronounced dead at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, shortly after arrival. Physicians there said that he died instantly upon impact. Rocky was the first Georgia conservation ranger to be killed in the line of duty in at least 25 years.

Rocky was known statewide as a very dependable ranger with a positive, uplifting attitude. He could be depended upon to help in any situation in any way possible. This is especially evident in the circumstances of his death because he was working on his day off when he had his accident. He felt compelled to assist in the search because in his words to his wife Mandy, “If that was my child missing, I would want everyone looking for her.”

This was a typical response from a very dedicated officer. If something happened, you could bet that Rocky would be there helping.

Rocky began his career with the State of Georgia as an enforcement officer with the Georgia Department of Transportation in the mid 1980s. On Jan. 1, 1987, he realized a lifelong dream and became a conservation ranger with the Georgia DNR. He was  originally assigned to Montgomery and Toombs counties in the Metter Law Enforcement District and transferred to Taylor County in 1989. In 1991, he was transferred to Pike County where he resided until his death.

During these years as a conservation ranger, he developed an excellent reputation with several state, local and federal agencies. He was well-respected by sportsmen and poachers alike for his fair, but firm approach to enforcement. This is best exemplified by the following story:

Shortly after Rocky’s death, Rocky’s supervisor, Sgt. Joe Buice, was at a store buying some items. A known game-law violator, whom Rocky had cited several times, approached Sgt. Buice and asked about Rocky. After being informed of what had happened, the violator told Sgt. Buice to tell the Wainwright family that if they needed anything at all to call him immediately and he would help. He said that Rocky was the most professional ranger he had ever dealt with and that it was the least he could do for him. Surely, this speaks volumes about Rocky’s reputation with the public.

Rocky was promoted to the rank of corporal on July 1, 1999. During his career Rocky was presented with several awards, including:

• 1990-91: Manchester District Waterfowl Officer of the Year.
• 1993-94 Manchester District Waterfowl Officer of the Year.
• 1993-94: Northern Region Waterfowl Officer of the Year.
• 1993-94: Manchester District Ranger of the Year.
• 1995: Sergeants Special Commendation for Outstanding Performance.
• 1995: Region IV Investigative Ranger of the Year.
• 1998: Nominated for Governor’s Public Safety Award.

Rocky was a dedicated Christian and family man who served his Lord Jesus Christ and his family without question or reservation. He was very active in his church, the Thomaston Church of God, and served willingly at a moment’s notice to do even the smallest job. He worked several part-time jobs but always found time for God and his family. He enjoyed all types of hunting and fishing but enjoyed waterfowl hunting the most.

He was a member of several associations  including the Christian Sportsmen’s Fellowship, the National Rifle Association, the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Ducks Unlimited, as well as the Georgia State Law Enforcement Chapter of the Police Benevolent Association and the Peace Officers Association of Georgia.

Rocky was 36 years of age at the time of his death. He left behind Mandy, his wife of eight years, and two children, Austin, age four, and Laranda, age three. He also left his mother and father, a brother, as well as a large and loving extended family. 

Rocky was buried in Upson County on Aug. 22, 1999. His funeral was attended by hundreds of law enforcement officers from around the state, as well as Game and Fish agencies from several other states, including Virginia and South Carolina. His funeral and graveside service was fitting for such a fine officer. The service included the newly formed honor guard of the Georgia DNR, a 21-gun salute, Taps and a helicopter flyover. To those who attended, DNR Law Enforcement says thank you for taking the time to say good-bye to one of our best. It will not be forgotten.

Everyone who knew Rocky will miss him. His family and those of us who worked with him on a daily basis will especially miss him. Please keep him in your prayers, but join us in rejoicing in the fact that Rocky is with his Lord in Heaven, probably picking out a choice spot for a duck blind for us to join him at a later time.

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