Home News and Features Barre Town K9 Unit Finds Lost Hiker

Barre Town K9 Unit Finds Lost Hiker

Barre Town Officer Leo De Prato and his K9 Lakota. Photo courtesy of Officer Leo De Prato.
A 56-year-old hiker called 9-1-1 to say she was lost in the woods on March 26 at 2:50 p.m. in Berlin. Then her phone died.

But thanks to Barre Town Officer Leo De Prato and his K9, Lakota, all is well. De Prato told The Bridge on March 27 he received a call from Detective Corporal Dan Withrow of the Berlin Police Department shortly before 3 p.m. seeking help finding a lost hiker in the vicinity of Berlin Pond. The woman recently underwent hernia surgery. She had two dogs with her, no food, and was not properly dressed for the drop in temperature. She called 9-1-1 and told police she had started hiking at 1 p.m. but went off the trail. She had parked her car at the Irish Hill trailhead on Brookfield Road.

The woman gave police other details until her phone died. De Prato said they were able to figure out a general vicinity of her whereabouts by checking her two cell phone pings. But those pings can only give a general radius of accuracy. They indicated a circle of up to 5 miles where she could be. “Her cell phone died on the second ping,” De Prato said.

De Prato said his dog, Lakota, can only follow a scent if she has one to go on, so luckily they were able to get an article of clothing from the woman’s vehicle through an open window. Lakota and De Prato started tracking up the Darling Hill section, and after going about a mile, they found another hiker who also had a dog. He, however, had not seen the lost hiker. Lakota and De Prato continued on their journey, across a river, and came across some fresh “scuff” marks.

“I could tell right away my dog was on another track,” De Prato said.  “Then we started to hear her in the woods, yelling for help. … She had no idea where she was.”

She was found, safe and sound, without need of medical attention. De Prato and Lakota walked her safely back to the road.

This occasion marked a milestone for De Prato’s K9 unit. “This is our first successful track since we graduated.” He had a few other calls for tracking, including one in which Lakota tried to track a shooter in Barre, but the alleged assailant escaped by car. In another case in February, a missing juvenile also apparently fled in a car. De Prato said tracking by K9 can be hard if the person doesn’t want to be found, but De Prato described how he and the dog work as a team. “I rely on her nose and she relies on me for picking up visual stuff.”

All in all this was a great day for De Prato. “The amount of joy to know we were on track and being able to find someone who needed our help is awesome.”

De Prato has been with the Barre Town Police Department for four years, but he just got K9 certified last year. In February 2021 he and Lakota graduated from the program for detecting drugs (XTC, heroin, meth, cocaine, etc.), and in November 2021 they graduated from patrol school (tracking, building searches, etc.). 

There are four K9 units accessible in the Montpelier area, including De Prato and Lakota in Barre Town, one unit in Barre City, and two with the Vermont State Police.

Others involved in the rescue included Berlin Police and Vermont State Police troopers.

“The Berlin Police wish to extend our thanks to all who help in the search, especially Officer De Prato and Lakota for their rapid response, which helped bring this incident to a safe and successful conclusion,” a Berlin Police Department press release stated.