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Marked For Success Death Of A Family Friend Who Was Lost In The Woods Leads Boy To Award-Winning Solution

Tragedy was the mother of invention for 12-year-old Dustin Hicks.

When a family friend died after getting lost in the Cougar Creek Drainage area near Enaville, the Spirit Lake sixth-grader decided to make it easier for rescuers to find other people lost in the woods.

Hicks took home a best of show award at the state Invention Convention last month in Boise for his product, called Safe-T-Rite.

The glow-in-the-dark marking stick writes on rocks and trees, leaving a trail of high-tech bread crumbs to help rescuers find lost hunters, hikers and skiers. The marks are weatherproof, but can be removed with rubbing alcohol.

“I thought of it because of George,” Hicks said. “I didn’t want it to happen to me.”

George was George Saunders, a 54-year-old Pinehurst man who went hunting in November 1996. His body wasn’t found until June. Saunders’ son, Kenny, has been friends with Hicks’ dad since they were kids.

Dustin and his dad, Dave Hicks, delivered food to the rescuers during the search for George. And when Dustin started hunting last fall, his mom wished there was a way for him to leave her a note if he got lost.

So he took some tire chalk he saw his dad use at the auto shop and melted it with a little glow-in-the-dark paint. It took about 20 tries to get the right consistency, but soon he turned his science project into an award winner - and had his mom searching for a patent lawyer.

“I think I got an ‘A’,” he said.

Kenny Saunders said he’s glad his father’s death motivated Dustin to help other.

“It’s a good idea,” said Saunders, a miner in Rocksprings, Wyoming. “It would be something I’d carry with me.”

Dustin’s mom, Shari Hicks, said her son has always loved to see how things work. When he was four, he took apart his grandmother’s exercise bike.

“It still doesn’t work quite right,” she said.

More than 200 students competed in the Invention Convention, which required the inventions to be student-initiated, humane, top-finishers in local competitions and cost less than $12.

Hicks took home a plaque, a ribbon and a $100 savings bond. He said he doesn’t know what he’ll do with the money.

“You’re supposed to say you’re saving it,” his mom joked.

The young hunter and fisherman, who sports a silver earring of a snowboarder in his left ear, said he carries Safe-T-Rite with him when he goes hunting - and wishes George would have been able to do the same.

Hicks wrote in a log book that accompanied his invention: “Maybe if George had been able to mark his way the searchers could have found him in time.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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