Meridian Star

January 26, 2013

Officials close down public ramps on Chunky River

By Brian Livingston / blivingston@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

FOREST CITY, N.C. —     In a move to try and preserve search areas where crews have been trying to locate the body of a man who is believed to have drowned on the Chunky River a week ago, officials have closed down three public boat ramps and further ask private landowners with ramps to do likewise.

    Lauderdale County Emergency Management Agency Executive Director David Sharp said Friday afternoon two public boat ramps in Lauderdale County and one public ramp in Newton County have been closed by authorities with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Sharp said as the weather continues to improve, people will be wanting to get out on the river to enjoy the outdoors. But that will cause problems for the search crews who have been trying for a week to locate the body of 56-year-old Marcus L. Smith.

    "If the boat traffic were to increase it might mess up the areas in which we are trying to search," Sharp said.

    In addition to the public boat ramps, Sharp said private boat ramp owners are also asked to heed the concerns for the search operations in not launching any boats as well. Sharp said with the cooperation of everyone he feels the areas in which the search has been focused downriver of Stuckey Bridge will be kept intact.

    Sharp said the water current is still giving the crews problems. He said they ran sonar sweeps and tried dragging areas of the river where they believe Smith's body may still be but Friday came up empty handed.

    "The water is still too treacherous to send down a diver," Sharp said. "So we have had to try and work from the surface. That hasn't been easy either given the depth of the water and the swiftness of the current."

    Smith was in a canoe with two other men a week ago today 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 which number between 25 and 30 people on a daily basis.

    Sharp said a reduced number of responders will be at the site throughout the weekend and the sonar boat will not be available. He said personnel will be running search operations from the banks of the river as the water levels hopefully continue to fall.

    "They will be looking for any indication as to where the body is," Sharp said.