Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission Officer Dwain Mobley stood with his arms crossed, shivering in the March cold, as he looked out through a tangle of brush into a clearing. The dim, predawn gray was slowly ebbing, replaced by the first rays of a morning sun stretching across the grassy opening. He could finally see the camouflaged tent blind, turkey decoys and a hanging feeder set up by his “target.”
The “target” was a turkey poacher from Live Oak, Fla., 22 miles south of the Georgia line. Mobley had been keeping close tabs on the man because sources told him the guy would be turkey hunting that morning—six days before the legal gobbler season opened.
An electric feeder sprayed cracked corn onto the warming ground, and 11 turkeys—two gobblers and nine hens—ran up to the feeding station, pecking and scratching at the bite size yellow kernels. But there was no poacher.
“Time to go,” thought Mobley. “He’s not going to show.”
The officer had other places he wanted to check. He shouldered his backpack and hurriedly pushed through chest high palmettos toward his ATV, a Yamaha Kodiak 450, hidden in a dried up pond a 100 yards away. This was his third morning working the stakeout. Every time he came and went he’d break a new trail so as not to beat down permanent ruts in the palmettos, to keep the suspect from noticing the bike’s tire sign.
Predawn temperatures hovered in the upper 20s. Mobley was wearing multiple layers suited for the fast-warming Florida day. But for the next 20 minutes, these layers would prove a detriment to his survival.
Mobley stood up on his bike, feathering the gas as he looked ahead between the long leaf pines for an elevated lime rock road that would take him back to his patrol truck. He hadn’t eaten breakfast and was eagerly anticipating a large egg omelet before heading back out on patrol. That thought, however, became a distant memory when the ground suddenly gave way beneath him.
“From my field of view, I couldn’t see anything,” recalls Mobley. “I busted through those palmettos and—boom!—there was nothing there. The bike didn’t drop straight down like going off a cliff. Instead, it rode down a steep slope before slamming into the bottom of this sinkhole, where I was chucked over the handle bars and into the dirt.”
He got up, brushed himself off and found he was standing in calf-deep, muddy water in the bottom of a cone-like hole, similar in shape to a paper water-cooler cup, about 7 feet deep.
“I got back on the bike and figured I could drive it out,” says Mobley. “I tried one wall, but just as I would get to the top, the front wheels would start stuttering. It wasn’t getting enough traction, so I’d back down and give it another go; kind of like a marble rolling back and forth in the bottom of a bowl. Finally, I look to my left and see the angle isn’t as steep. ‘I can do this,’ I tell myself.”
He gunned his ATV, shooting straight up the incline. When the front tire grabbed the palmetto root, the bike and Mobley shot straight into the air.
“I remember the bike revving real loud as it fell back on top of me,” he said. “Then everything went black for a second or two. I woke up hearing this loud buzz. It was just like in football, when someone whacked me in the head.
“I was living my worst nightmare. I was trapped underwater, and I couldn’t breathe. I was lying at an angle, with my head down in the bottom of this cone shaped hole,” he says. “The handlebars, along with the nose of the machine and all of its weight—591 pounds—were pressing into my head and shoulders. In that brief moment, I knew I was going to die.”
Mobley tried to work his head and shoulders out around the handlebars. But he couldn’t. His backpack was snagged on something, preventing him from wiggling out.
Facing imminent death, Mobley shoved both hands against the handle bars, pushing straight up until the machine finally budged. He held it up long enough to slide up to the left, and then let it drop back down on top of him, with his eyes, mouth and nose just out of the water.
He heard garbled voices that sounded like they were floating down to him from outside the hole. “I wanted to ask for help, until I realized the sounds were coming out of my throat,” said Mobley. “It was me hollering and gagging, while I coughed up muck and peat and leaves that I’d inhaled while shoving hard against the bike.”
FWC dispatch had recorded him signing off the radio before daylight in the general vicinity of a 3,000-acre block of woods. His handheld radio was in his backpack, buried in the muck beneath him. Self-rescue was the only option.
He sneaked one hand down to the Leatherman tool on his gun belt, and carefully worked it back up along his side to the strap around his left shoulder.
“By this time,” said Mobley, “I’d gotten a huge adrenalin dump. I was shaking so bad I could hardly keep a grip on the Leatherman tool. I couldn’t get at the strap because it was cutting deep into my clothing. The Leatherman tool kept catching my outer jacket. The harder I tried to get at the strap, the more it got hung up.
“Finally, it slipped out of my hand, dropping it in the water,” he recounted. “My range of motion was such that I couldn’t retrieve it. I pulled out my folding knife then. The blade is 4 1/2 inches long and razor sharp. I sliced at the strap a couple of times, but all I did was cut through several layers of jackets. I worried I’d make a mistake and cut myself. … So I put the knife back in my pocket.”
Mobley fell back on his ground fighting skills, maneuvering with his hips and legs out from underneath the bike, just like he would if an opponent had him pinned to the mat.
After 15 minutes of struggle, he slipped his hips out to the left of the machine far enough to leverage more pressure with his shoulders to break the right strap and free himself. He scrambled out of the hole, dragging his backpack with him.
Mobley was able to summon help with his cell phone, and after a brief hospitalization and upper repertory infection, he was able to recover.
“Perhaps if I’d been thinking less about an egg omelet and more about what I was supposed to be doing,” he jokes, “I might have avoided the situation. I plan to eat breakfast from now on.”
For more information on general ATV use, visit