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September 19, 2002 Issue

Volunteers, K-9 units and dive teams search for the body of Bill "Bo Peep" Farrer (above) who has been missing since last Thursday. His fishing boat was found in this creek.

Five-day search continues

The search for a Louisville man missing since his fishing boat was found Friday continued through Tuesday

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Hopes and prayers for Bill "Bo Peep" Farrer persisted for days along the twisting banks of Rocky Comfort Creek amidst drought-stifling downpours, rapidly rising water levels and lingering questions about the fate of a man loved by many.

Not even valiant tenacity could describe the efforts of the large number of community volunteers and professional searchers who refuse to stop until their friend is found.

Farrer, a 66-year-old Louisville resident, was last seen between 4:15-6 p.m. Thursday Sept. 12, shortly before he returned to a favorite fishing spot off Clarks Mill Road west of Louisville.

The search began early Friday afternoon. By early Saturday morning the number of volunteers had swelled to more than 100. The search was temporarily halted for 24 hours beginning Monday night to allow time for search conditions for K-9 units to improve.

The possibility that Farrer was missing came initially when his truck and fishing boat were discovered at 1 p.m. Friday.

Farrer's boat was found, front end down, apparently having been pulled over a fallen tree that sits near the center of a 200-yard area of the creek that resembled a misshaped S. The front end of the boat was in the water with all his fishing gear intact, while the rear of the boat rested on the fallen tree, between one and two feet above the water line. Farrer's truck was parked at the little boat landing 100 yards upstream, keys and shotgun inside.

The only thing missing was the man.

The effort to locate him began quickly by friends who believed he had possibly fallen and struck his head while pulling the boat over the fallen tree. Described as a healthy man in good physical condition, friends at the scene believed he might have either succumbed to the water or would be found dazed and wandering in the thick woods.

The search

The scan of the area continued through Monday evening as family, friends and search and rescue teams flooded the property. The search effort was directed from a command post set up at the entrance to the property on Clarks Mill Road. First responders and volunteer firefighters from around the county were joined by law enforcement agencies, emergency services personnel and friends and family of Farrer. The mass of local people were joined by dive teams from Burke, Washington and McDuffie counties, Dogs South K-9 Search and Rescue Volunteers from Jesup, Rockdale County-based Search and Rescue Dogs of Georgia and a State Patrol helicopter from Perry.

K-9 units searched both banks of the creek but focused primarily on the murky stream. Throughout the weekend the dogs continued to "alert" on the creek. Dive teams covered the area time and time again, as did community volunteers, searching between the logs and limbs that completely covered the creek bed.

Many hours were spent using cameras, underwater lights and hands and feet as divers literally felt their way along the creek bed crawling inch by inch. Volunteers also spent much time in the water, forming a human chain to walk the stretch "alerted" by the dogs. Some dove without tanks along the edges of the bank and into a pitch black, 10-foot hole that ran under the west bank of the creek.

Dive team members said that it is not unusual for someone who has drowned to become entangled in debris on a creek or river bottom and, thus, very difficult to locate.

Searchers on land and in water continued to come up empty. The sole source of encouragement came from the dogs, continuing throughout to "alert" handlers to a human presence under the water. Through Monday night it was the dogs that insisted searchers keep looking.

"You've meant a lot to us because you gave us hope," said Sheriff Gary Hutchins, speaking for all the searchers as he spoke with Dogs South volunteer Angela Batten.

The rain came Saturday in torrents and the creek rose several feet from its five-foot average. Through it all other volunteers provided unending food and drinks. Those volunteers were found at First Baptist Church, Louisville ARP Church, Shekinah Assembly, Louisville United Methodist, Ingles, Country Hearth, Popeye's and so many more.

The decision was made late Monday to take the recommendation of K-9 personnel to halt the search until Wednesday so the human scent in the area could dissipate, providing less distraction for the dogs. As hours turn into days, the hopeful expectation by many searchers of finding Farrer alive and well, or even injured, began to fade.

Jefferson County EMA Director Fay McGahee, who was instrumental in coordinating the effort, had nothing but praise for the quantity and quality of search efforts.

"We've done a very exhaustive search effort with two different K-9 cadaver units and three different dive teams, and we have come up empty," said McGahee. "Everybody feels confident that we will find Bill.

"There is no end to the generosity of the people in this community. In situations like this the people of Jefferson County have always pitched in. We had more than 100 volunteers Saturday, more than 50 Sunday searching some very hazardous terrain and more food than we could eat."

Throughout the weekend Farrer's sister, Commerce resident Mary Farrer Baker, watched with silent intensity the efforts of so many people as they lived their commitment to find her brother. She stood perfectly still, her eyes fixed on the work of the divers, the canine teams and the many volunteers who counted her brother as their friend. In her own search for what she called closure, Ms. Baker asked Monday that the countless people searching for her brother also be remembered.

"I just want to say how much we appreciate the support from this community," she said tearfully. "They have been wonderful and they have done such a wonderful job."

Another of Farrer's family, Ike Farrer, traveled from Tennessee when he was told his brother was missing. Like his sister, Ike Farrer was present each day, always standing faithfully and patiently along the brush covered banks of Rocky Comfort.

"I appreciate everybody, from the divers and dog teams to the Sheriff's department and the great job they are doing and we want them to continue until they recover him," he said. "We want to thank each one of Bo-Peep's friends and may the Lord bless them for the great job they are doing."

Hutchins said Monday night that the search effort will continue Wednesday. The search will move onto land if alerts by the dogs eventually prove fruitless. He said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is also being contacted.

"We're hoping, and the divers seem to think, that Mr. Farrer is still in the water," Hutchins said. "And we're going to stay here until we are 100 percent certain that he is not in the water. The alerts by the dogs are what gives us hope. We're working in stages and we want to resolve the issues with the water before we move to the land. And by calling the GBI, they can be going in other areas and we will support whatever they do."

Coroner Johnny Nelson said Tuesday that he praises the love and support shown by residents as the search for Farrer evolved.

A second scenario

Law enforcement officials have not ruled out the possibility of foul play, especially considering an incident related by Farrer earlier this year to friends and Sheriff's investigators.

Farrer reported that an altercation had occurred at the entrance to the same property on Clarks Mill Road. He claimed he was approached by two men asking for directions. During the conversation the men shocked him with a stun gun. He said he struck the men and fled into the woods until he believed it was safe. He said the men drove away in a truck with a North Carolina tag.

Sheriff's investigators said Farrer had reported the altercation the following day. Investigators said they checked with a number of area property owners and found three pieces of property in the county leased to North Carolina residents. Based on descriptions of the men and the vehicle provided by Farrer and interviews, investigators said the men could have only been guests of those leasing the property for hunting. Residents in the Clarks Mill Road area did not recall seeing either the men or the vehicle, investigators said. Deputies were also given these descriptions.

A copy of Farrer's taped statement and copies of all notes stemming from the interview as well as those resulting from the disappearance last week will be given to GBI agents, Hutchins said.

Evidence that appears at this time to run contrary to the foul play scenario involves a game camera installed in a tree near the area where Farrer parked his truck. The camera shows his truck entering the area, and Farrer alone in the vehicle. The camera showed no other vehicle entering the area.

Another variable, strongly held by some in the community, involves what is said to be a statement by Farrer in prior months that he had discovered marijuana under cultivation.

Investigators said Farrer did not include any information about the marijuana during his interview.

Louisville bridge closing opposed by community

Traffic will have to be rerouted for 18 months, DOT says

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Everyone agreed a new bridge is needed over Rocky Comfort Creek and SR 24 in Louisville.

From there the agreement ended as nearly two-dozen Louisville residents cordially met with Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) representatives Sept. 12 to ask that construction plans for the replacement bridge be altered so traffic into Louisville will not be rerouted.

Residents and business leaders asked DOT to consider alternatives to the minimum 12-month planned detour, saying that the move would create traffic hazards on side streets and would be costly for businesses.

DOT provided plans for the 44-foot wide bridge to replace the existing 24-foot wide structure.

The new bridge will include two driving lanes and four-foot bicycle lanes on the bridge and approaches.

The .57-mile project begins 1,300-feet north of Rocky Comfort Creek and ends approximately 1,700-feet south of the creek. The existing bridge is slated for replacement because it is narrow and structurally deficient.

The plan preferred by residents called for the construction of a temporary bridge adjacent to the existing one, so that traffic would not have to be detoured.

DOT District Planning and Programming Engineer Debbie Pennington told residents that, while often utilized in bridge projects, that an alternative had been studied but would not be feasible in this case due to environmental restrictions. She said the project is 80 percent federally funded, thus decreasing the likelihood for approval of an on-site detour due to federally imposed environmental regulations.

"We do on-site detours everywhere we can because we don't want to cause the public any more delays than we have to," said Pennington. "But in this case the environmental agencies say we cannot put an on-site detour here because of the wetlands."

Another alternative ruled out was a staged construction method.

This method involves leaving the bridge open while one side of the bridge is built.

Concrete barriers would be placed at the centerline to separate traffic from construction. Pennington said this method had to be ruled out because the current 11-foot wide lanes would be too narrow for log trucks and those pulling manufactured homes.

Pennington said the concept approved by DOT, after all options had been studied, was to close SR 24 during the construction phase, a minimum of 12 months, and reroute both local and out of county traffic. Local non-tractor-trailer traffic would be rerouted onto Scootch Davis Road or other available routes into Louisville. Traffic along SR 24 coming from the area of Washington County would be rerouted south onto US Highway 221 to Bartow, onto US Highway 319 to Wadley and north to Louisville on US Highway 1.

Residents suggested the possibility of wetland mitigation as a possibility for securing permission to build an on-site detour, saying that other wetland property was available if the proposal is approved. Pennington cited the suggestion as possible, adding that, if approved by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the required study would likely delay the project for as much as two years.

Another proposal by residents suggested that one half of the bridge deck be constructed within 120 days and that temporary traffic signals be installed at either end of the bridge, so that one-way traffic could continue and rerouting for the entire construction period could be averted. This method would require that traffic be rerouted for four months rather than the projected 12 or more months indicated in the current concept. The suggestion also included cost estimates on the financial impact of closing the bridge for a year or more.

Pennington said all suggestions would be forwarded to DOT in Atlanta for consideration. DOT Preconstruction Engineer David Griffith said Friday that the plan was feasible. He said another potential, though more costly solution would be to gear the construction contract to a shorter time frame, perhaps as few as six months.

A court reporter was present at the meeting to take statements from residents. Residents were also asked to furnish DOT with any comments and suggestions they might have regarding the project.

Thermo King lays off workers

By Parish Howard

An undisclosed number of Thermo King Corporation's hourly production employees were released from their positions last Friday due to fewer orders for the company's products.

These layoffs at the Louisville plant come just four months after a similar reduction in the plant's workforce in May of this year.

"This reduction was caused by a continuance of 'soft' business conditions," Louisville Plant Manager Mark Molyneaux said. "We are hopeful that this situation will improve in the future and we will be able to return some of these employees to our active rolls."

The "soft business conditions" are partly a reflection of the conditions in the nation's economy, a plant spokesman said.

According to Thermo King officials, the reduction was handled on the basis of seniority, with the least senior employees leaving first.

Officials say that company policy was followed in the cases of employees whose skills were necessary to keep the plant in operation and to service customer orders.

Affected employees will be eligible for State of Georgia Department of Labor administered unemployment payments paid from Thermo King's state unemployment account.

The company is assisting the affected employees sign up for these services and providing them with information about educational opportunities in the area, officials said.

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Last modified: September 18, 2002