First fatality worked was painful

Published 5:21 pm Monday, January 25, 2010

It was March 15, 1968, when two men from Clanton lost their lives on Lay Lake, at the Narrows.

This was my first duty of this kind—as you know, I shared my time on Lay and Mitchell lakes. It was my first fatality to work, it was unusually long and I got personally touched by it because I allowed myself to get close to the family, especially a darling mother of about 80 who was there every day with hope in her heart.

It was moving to see the family stare out over the water as if they expected them to just come back. It was very sad in this dear mother’s case. She would wait for me to come in and come to me for some good news. It didn’t come.

This was unusual because, like many more to come, there was not much to do after the boat was located but to assume that the bodies were located in that general area, though it was the deepest part of the lake and there was also a strong current.

This was barely in Shelby County, and a very suitable site was nearby: Kibby’s Camp and a public launch. The first problem arose when the Rescue Squad rolled out the old Army surplus tent, and there was a hump in the middle. We were on top of an inactive whiskey still!

I stayed there a few days, and then went down to the public launch in Chilton County. This had been a very long time for the bodies to surface. Back in those days, we sometimes had more help than we needed. There were still people that said they were supposed to “be up” in 3 days. A couple of people wanted to put out some hay, and it was supposed to swirl and settle near the spot!

The poor sweet lady was there for 28 days! I will never forget the look in her eyes, begging me to find her son OK.

I can’t say enough about our Rescue Squad back in those days, truly a dedicated group of men that gave of their time and effort for that long. On one occasion, they were searching a slough on the Coosa side and had shots fired near their boat. Of course, we all knew that it meant stay away! It’s hard to believe the whiskey business was that prevalent in those days.

As the days passed, I still felt that I should be there, one, for the safety of the rescue men, and I also needed to be there to have the information for my report. One night, I was going to come back later, and I left my boat and even my keys for emergency use by the Sheriff’s Department. I came back a few hours later, and the deputy watched me as I went down to get my boat. “Did you know that some other officers took your boat?” What? “They were all dressed in fancy uniforms and said they were from the ‘State Rescue Squad,’ called himself commander—with all gold braid on his hat.”

I had heard enough, and I was mad! I got the first boat I could see and told him to take me to the site. We met them coming in my patrol boat. It looked like a joke. Folks were sitting on the sides of it, and the boat looked like it was about to sink.

You don’t want to hear all I had to say as I ordered them out of my boat, but the conversation ended with, “and that goes for you too, commander!”

It was a long and tireless 28 days before the lake gave up the two friends. The whiskey business dropped off considerably—on that part of the lake, anyway.