Meridian Star

January 24, 2013

Fifth day yields nothing in search

By Brian Livingston /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Exhaustion and a hint of frustration crept into the voice of David Sharp late Wednesday afternoon as he stood on a sandbar on the Chunky River.

    Sharp, executive director of the Lauderdale County Emergency Management Agency, has been leading the search for 56-year-old Marcus L. Smith who apparently drowned Saturday. Speaking by cell phone from the site of where the main search has been concentrated for the past two days, Sharp said sonar had picked up an image that search crews were optimistic Wednesday would provide some results. But Sharp said they were unsuccessful in finding the body.

    "The image looked promising and at one point during dragging operations we thought we had results but it just didn't happen," said Sharp. "We will come back Thursday (today) and hit this area hard again."

    Sharp said the rain swollen river, which was about nine feet above normal at the time of the accident, was still too swift to get a boat armed with an underwater camera into position for a clear picture of the section of the river downstream from Stuckey Bridge. Sharp called this section "an area of interest" and the focal point of the search.

    Sharp said although the water level has dropped several feet in the last couple of days and a few inches during the course of the day Wednesday, the current, which Sharp guesses was moving at about 5 to 6 mph, was still too fast and unpredictable for the camera crew.

    "Just can't keep the boat stable enough while at the same time trying to lower the camera into a specific target area for a clear picture," said Sharp. "We have to take the safety of the search crews into consideration otherwise we will have another incident on our hands."

    Smith was in a canoe with two other men Saturday when it turned over into the swift, cold waters of the Chunky River near Stuckey Bridge. The two survivors were able to reach the bank but Smith was swept downriver the survivors told authorities. Sharp said searchers recovered the canoe and other items that were in the canoe. The items were scattered among fallen trees and other debris along the river banks.

    Sharp said Lauderdale County volunteer firefighters, LEMA and Newton County Emergency Management Agency personnel, and officers with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks are comprising the search crews.

    "We are wrapping up for today because we have a lot of equipment and men to get out of here before it gets too dark," said Sharp late Wednesday afternoon. "And I have to go to the command site and give the family members an update. I just wish I had something better to tell them."