Scott Jay Maness (1948-1981)

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About Scott Jay Maness (1948-1981)


Scott Jay Maness was born on September 14, 1948, in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from New Trier High School in 1967. He later attended Orange Coast Community College and the University of Wyoming before graduating from Sonoma State University with a bachelor’s degree. After serving for 3 years as a research zoologist for the Peace Corps, Maness returned to Sonoma State University and earned a master’s degree in biology. In 1980, Maness began his U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) career as a herpetologist and biological technician at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Reptilian and crocodilian biology particularly interested Maness, and he took an active role in expanding the Refuge's herpetological monitoring and inventory projects. Notably, several specimens collected by Maness were new finds for the Refuge. Maness also received a letter of commendation for his participation in the Service’s International Affairs Program for conservation education and his work as an interpreter for several Latin American visiting conservationists.

Cause of Death

On June 7, 1981, lightning from a thunderstorm started several fires near Ransom Road between the Merritt National Wildlife Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center. By approximately noon on June 8, Service members identified three fires as threats and acted quickly to put out these fires. Maness and Beau W. Sauselein, another Service employee, worked together as a tractor crew with Maness as the observer and Sauselein as the tractor operator. While they plowed a fireline, the winds shifted direction and pushed the fire towards them. As they tried to escape, their tractor got stuck on a tree stump, forcing them to try to evacuate the area on foot. However, thick brush and palmetto fueled the fire and made it impossible to outrun. In a clearing, Maness and Sauselein shared a fire shelter built for one man and not designed for protection against direct flames. Another Service employee found both Maness and Sauselein badly burned after rain helped stop the fire, and they were rushed to Jess Parrish Memorial Hospital. Maness’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and he succumbed to his injuries on June 8, 1981. Sauselein died shortly afterwards from his own injuries on June 9, 1981. Their deaths led to important changes in the Service’s approach to fire management, which has improved safety measures for all Service members. Furthermore, the Cape Canaveral Space Force Museum lists them on their memorial to cape industrial fatalities, and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge dedicated a memorial to them in 2017.


Key Fields

Born 1948, Died 1981, Age 32, Male, Herpetologist, Biological Technician, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, Fire, Burns