March 14, 2016
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Published: March 11, 2016
By: Loren Korn
To view the article online, visit: http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20160311/NEWS/160319907?tc=ar.
Mark Tarntino has participated in thousands of search and rescue efforts in the 22 years he's handled bloodhounds for the K-9 unit at Tomoka Correctional Institution.
The team often responds to several calls across the region each week, using a pack of well-trained hounds to help track missing children, adults, Alzheimer's patients, as well as armed and dangerous criminals on the lam.
The Tomoka unit led a seven-man crew that, within minutes, helped locate an unconscious woman in a wooded area at Waterfront Park in Palm Coast. Doreen Marie O'Connor, 50, was reported missing by worried family members Tuesday morning, prompting a full-scale multi-agency response. Officers from Marion Correctional Institution's bloodhound team also participated.
Tarntino, who heads up the Tomoka canine platoon, was the officer who first spotted O'Connor. He was led there by the snout of Wyatt, a 7-year-old bloodhound. Flagler County Sheriff's Office officials said Wyatt effectively saved O'Connor's life.
“That's a good feeling in our hearts to come out of the woods knowing that somebody's coming out alive,” Tarntino said. “Sometimes it doesn't happen that way. But it gives us a good feeling in our hearts. And this is why we do this job. That's our reward, to make sure that person comes out alive.”.
The dogs regularly provide assistance for searches in Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam counties, Tarntino said. In 2010, the unit helped rescue a snake-bitten Volusia County deputy from a wooded area near the prison in Daytona Beach.
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 24,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 140,000 offenders in the community.