Working as a team in checked baggage, TSA officers Danny Marte and Joey Lenard uncovered an artfully concealed AR-15, three magazines and four boxes of ammunition beneath the zipper liner and wedged under the pull handle in a checked bag.
The bag’s passenger and companion were located by Port Authority Police, questioned and arrested, with their property taken for further investigation. “I’m almost certain we prevented something far more sinister from happening,” said Marte.
Exhibiting great teamwork, it was just another work day for Marte and Lenart. End of a great story? No, not even close.
Prior to his catch of the AR-15, Marte was hospitalized for six days and on a ventilator for over 48 hours. Marte was the first EWR officer to test positive for COVID-19 on March 18.
Spending the first week of his illness at home on Weather and Safety leave, Marte’s fever and shortness of breath worsened. The nine-year TSA veteran couldn’t walk to the mailbox without losing his breath and drove himself to the local hospital where he was admitted for treatment.
“My previous bouts with pneumonia in comparison to COVID-19 were almost similar,” said the 32-year-old Marte. “The only difference is the speed with which COVID-19 came after my immune system, in particular my lungs. Pneumonia normally takes more time to develop and progress but COVID-19 gave that time span a boost in speed and before I knew it, I was back in the hospital again after my initial diagnosis.”
Marte was placed on a ventilator for two days because his lungs filled with fluid. With his condition improving and hospitals overflowing with cases, Marte chose to be released and continued his recuperation at home.
Unfortunately, once back at home to complete his recovery, Marte’s wife, Yamilka, and their four-year-old special needs son, Yamil, who he refers to as “his world,” both contracted COVID-19. His son ran a high fever for four days that improved through medication and daily remote doctor visits. His wife briefly lost her sense of taste and smell, but otherwise had a mild case.
More than a month after being infected by COVID-19, Marte returned to duty for the morning shift in checked bags. “Emotionally, it was overwhelming being back, not knowing if I was going to be back [at all],” said Marte.
He credits his family and Christian faith as the two driving forces that kept him in the fight. His TSA family also kept daily communication with Marte and his family, providing encouragement through his illness.
“TSO Marte represents the epitome of resilience and dedication to mission that TSA New Jersey has,” said Carter. “He and his family had been through a lot, but he battled back and played a key role in the detection of an artfully concealed assault rifle and associated ammunition and equipment. He is an inspiration to the rest of us at TSA NJ and the nation. We can battle through this and still do great things.”
“Marte and his family were very fortunate,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Fabrice Czarnecki . “His experience powerfully reveals the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and why it is best avoided.”
“The most important lesson learned from Marte’s experience is how important it is for each of us to follow the public health guidance on social distancing, the wearing of masks, and the washing of our hands,” said Czarnecki. “When working with passengers, TSA’s enhanced protections for distancing during screening, the wearing of face masks and face shields and the new cleaning protocols provides additional layers of protection.”
By Karen Robicheaux, Strategic Communications & Public Affairs