Volunteers, divers and specially trained recovery dogs continue to search for Bill "Bo-Peep" Farrer.
The search continues
By Ben Nelms
Two weeks of activity along the usually serene banks of Rocky Comfort Creek west of Louisville has transformed the wetland area. But search and rescue teams believe such effort is required to find William "Bo Peep" Farrer, missing since Sept. 12 when his fishing boat was found poised on a fallen tree in the creek.
The 66 year-old Louisville resident was last seen between 4:15 and 6 p.m. Sept. 12, shortly before he apparently arrived at a favorite fishing spot off Clarks Mill Road. His fishing boat was discovered at 1 p.m. the following day. His truck was sitting 100 yards upstream at the earthen landing, keys and shotgun inside. The boat had apparently been pulled over a fallen tree positioned more than a foot above the water in the middle of an area of the creek that resembles a misshaped S.
The search began shortly thereafter when friends acquainted with Farrer's fishing habits began frantically searching the water and woods. The hopeful notion of finding Farrer dazed and wandering in the woods gave way over time to the likelihood that he had succumbed to the waters of Rocky Comfort.
The continued search
From northeast Georgia and Tennessee to the Georgia coast the searchers came. Amid the flurry of activity at the site was the core belief that cadaver dogs from three search and rescue agencies were correct in their constant "alerts" that the remains of a human was present in the creek. It was that belief that maintained the impetus for the joint agency operation by Sheriff Gary Hutchins and Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Fay McGahee.
Soaking rains during the initial days of the search caused the creek to rise and hampered the effort. Yet even with the rain, family, friends, local first responders, firefighters, law enforcement officers and out of area search and rescue personnel flooded into the area.
Arriving the day after Farrer's boat was found were Angela Batten, Jacob Weaver and cadaver dog Zena from Dogs South K-9 Search and Rescue in Jesup. Batten was contacted by Washington County Search and Rescue who had arrived the first day of the search and were the first team of divers at the site.
A second K-9 unit, Rockdale County-based Search and Rescue Dogs of Georgia joined the search later during the first week. Chattanooga-based Tennessee Search and Rescue Dog Association (TSARDA) members Jimbo and Lisa Canfield and cadaver dog Sassi joined the effort Monday. Additional TSARDA members arrived Tuesday bringing scuba gear for blackwater diving. All the K-9 teams are unpaid volunteers.
The land and water search during the first few days came to focus almost exclusively on the waters of rocky Comfort Creek. Search and rescue dogs, four in total, took repeated trips nearly one-half mile up and down stream, near banks overhanging with trees and through fallen trees and areas of debris that had collected along the banks. While alerts were given as far as 300 yards downstream the greatest majority of alerts, especially the strong ones, were centered on a much smaller area. Consistent with Zena's arrival nearly two weeks ago, the strongest and most frequent alerts continued to occur near the bend where the boat was found.
Since Monday, K-9 units alerted in three main areas. These included near the west bank just downstream and diagonal to where the boat was found, an area approximately 75 feet downstream where debris has collected and another area approximately 75 feet further downstream around the location where a recently fallen tree blocked a large part of the water flow.
Batten explained that it is normal for the scent of a drowned body to collect around trees, roots and other debris in the water. The scent also moves downstream from the incident.
Rain soaked search efforts gave way to hot, muggy days where insects plagued the volunteers.
Throughout the continuing search dive teams from across Georgia came. Teams arrived from McDuffie County, Burke County, Columbia County, Hart County Elbert County and Lincoln County. Joining the search during the second weekend were independent blackwater diver Chief Master Sgt. Herschel Hodges from the 165th Air Wing of Georgia Air National Guard and Blackwater Recovery's George Baker of St. Simons Island. All divers volunteered their time. Former Richmond County Commissioner J. B. Powell used his underwater camera and light system to search the creek.
Dive teams used different methods to accomplish their search. Some used a free swim method to search up and downstream while others worked off of different grid patterns. Two blackwater divers with TSARDA entered the water Tuesday morning, freely swimming the area at first, then working a grid side by side beginning at the south end of the primary search area.
The desperate growing need to find Farrer lent itself to other types of work so that searchers in the water could have a better chance of finding the missing man. Four nets were set up several hundred yards downstream.
Fallen trees and limbs lying in the creek were removed so that divers could perform a more adequate search of the target areas. An overhanging cypress and another, smaller tree growing partly from below the waterline on the west bank were removed because the cadaver dogs continued to offer strong alerts in those areas.
Heavy equipment was used to scrape away dirt and roots and to bore several five-foot-deep holes near the water's edge where the dogs alerted.
At the same time search teams, family and friends combed Rocky Comfort Creek. Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents and Sheriff's investigators were involved in other activities in case Farrer is not found or if the likelihood of foul play arises.
Nearly impossible to account for was the mass of equipment, supplies and food brought in either daily or as needed. When a diver, dog handler or searcher expressed a need, that need was quickly filled. No one complained, no one went without.
The effort gave rise to the creation of a little community where people worked together for a common goal. A sampling of the items provided included tents, chainsaws, boats, electric motors, chairs, tractors, generators, grills, batteries, infrared TV cameras, coolers, nets, pipe, survey equipment and compressed air for scuba tanks.
The City of Louisville Water, Police and Fire Departments provided much equipment and supplies and Jefferson County Roads Department, Georgia Department of Transportation, Hudson Farms, Wiley Brothers of Thomson and Herschel Waits provided heavy equipment.
An endless assortment of food and drinks kept the daily groups of 50-75 people going. Exemplifying the unity of purpose so evident at the search site were the often unnamed and unknown mass of individuals, families, restaurants and grocery stores that supplied the nutrition that sustained the search.
The end of the day Saturday was typical of the way many of the daily search efforts came to a close. Sheriff Hutchins asked that everyone involved in the effort gather under the tent. Acknowledging the daily presence at the banks of Rocky Comfort by so many, he asked that searchers rest on Sunday and told them about the next phase of the effort.
"I think he's in the water," said Hutchins, his perspective on the group's intention to find Farrer was obvious as he displayed sentiments that are easy to criticize but difficult to equal. "The dogs keep saying he's in here. I don't think we need to jump out of the water yet and go somewhere else. And I think we can rest for 24 or 48 hours. And I want to say that if you think I'm doing anything the wrong way I want you to tell me. And if any of you think there's something we can do I want you to tell me."
Standing in the group, Dogs South K-9 volunteer handler Angela Batten responded to Hutchins' remarks. Her words reflected the thoughts verbalized by many over the two weeks who saw the effort firsthand and who continued to be unwilling to give up the search. She said this was the only search effort she had seen where onlookers with coolers full of beer had not shown up to line the banks. The community here had shown her something different.
"I've never seen anything like this, a community coming together like this," she said to the family, friends and professional search and rescue personnel gathered at the end of the day Saturday. "And you don't see a Sheriff staying down here like this. You've had three different dogs saying he's in here. You have all worked hard. Sometimes these things take time to resolve."
The sense of community present among the family and friends of Bo Peep Farrer and the strangers who assembled was unwavering.
In the midst of anxious anticipation a kind of peace prevailed. The sense of community and love for the friend was not missed by Farrer's family. His brother and sister offered each day their appreciation for those who made the time to search for their brother.
What is to come
Hutchins, McGahee, family, friends and other searchers are determined to continue until all possibilities for locating Farrer are exhausted.
The next phase will continue the removal of debris from the creek bed. And already approved by state authorities is the construction of a temporary channel to divert the creek.
The days end as they begin at the search site. With human activity halted, everything in the area settles down. Easily heard are a host of birds, the buzz of insects, fish occasionally jumping, drops of water from the previous night's dew slipping off the leaves making their solitary splash into the waiting creek below and the almost audible sound of the water itself. In those times the slowly moving waters of Rocky Comfort reclaim their silent movement through south Jefferson County.
But in that serenity and solitude the hope of family, friends and those who would have been strangers just two weeks earlier is not silent.
Their hope is still alive and, like the waters of Rocky Comfort, searching for answers, and Bo Peep.
Newpaper changes hands...
Joyce Beverly, owner and publisher of The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter and William S. Morris IV, president of Morris Communications, sign the final contracts to close the newspaper's sale. On Thursday, Sept. 19 the oldest weekly newspaper in continuous publication in Georgia joined the family with the oldest newspaper in the South, The Augusta Chronicle.
Election results upheld
• Difference in votes not enough to overturn election
By Ben Nelms
A petition by outgoing Jefferson County Commissioner Wynder Smith to have the Aug. 20 primary election voided and a new election ordered by Dublin Superior Court Judge J. Stanley Smith was rejected at the Sept. 18 hearing. Smith said Tuesday he does not intend to appeal the decision.
The claim in the petition focused around votes the portions of Districts 2 and 4 in south central Jefferson County that were recently assigned to District 1 due to population figures from the 2000 census. Central to the commissioner's threefold position were the claims that inaccurate information resulted in some voters being assigned to the wrong district, voters being directed to vote on the wrong machines at the Louisville precinct and the impropriety of some absentee ballots.
Defense attorneys, representing Probate Judge Quillian Bryant and Registrars Lucille Salter, John Kilgore and Q.E. Parker said any errors in the number of contested votes would be too small to affect the outcome. Smith lost by 54 votes to challenger Gonice C. Davis in the Aug. 20 primary.
Defense attorneys said the high number of absentee votes could be attributed in part to the contested school board race in District 1.
In the end, Judge Smith said his count of votes that could be questioned differed by one from the total of 36 identified to defense lawyers. That number would not be sufficient to overturn the election totals, he said.
Toxic plume from old landfill must be dealt with
QORE based the conclusion on water samples taken from test wells located between the residences and the plume. Samples from the test wells did not show contamination, leading QORE to conclude that the contamination originated on-site at the residences rather than with the plume.
Gorman also addressed plans designed to diminish the levels of chemicals contained in the plume using "active remediation" approaches. One approach is called air sparging. Using this method air is pumped into the plume, and the action of large amounts of air reacting with the various Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) increases their rate of biodegradation. Another method of active remediation introduces potassium permanganate into the plume, resulting in a chemical reaction that would help evacuate gases produced in the reaction. Gorman said the plan calls for using either one, or perhaps both, of the methods in combination with monitoring the natural attenuation, or decrease, of VOCs.
Though not mentioned at the meeting, Gorman told commissioners at the Sept. 3 work session the expense of active remediation would be costly.
"The expense of trying to actively remediate these areas would be quite large," he said. "If we were to attempt to remediate the whole area of the plume, I'm afraid it would cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly more."
Many of the residents attending the meeting live or own property on Clarks Mill Road and Berrien Branch Road, areas in or near the path of the plume. Several residents questioned whether it was the county's responsibility to pay to have water run to their homes, insisting that they should not have to bear the expense, reportedly as much as $1,400, to alleviate a problem they did not cause and one that may jeopardize their health.
Also questioned was the belief by QORE that contamination in residential wells was caused by on-site introduction of VOCs into groundwater. Residents' concerns on this issue mirrored questions by EPD in the addendum to the July 2 letter sent to commissioners, stating that "it is likely that the cis-1,2-dichloroethene plume from the landfill extends onto the Davis, Saunders and Hughes properties."
Other residents asked why property owners were not contacted previously by the county and informed about the problems at the facility prior to being required by EPD to hold a public meeting. Citing what they saw as a current and perhaps future problem, residents questioned whether their drinking water was safe now or if it would be in the future. Some at the meeting asked about the cost of testing their well water and the appropriate frequency for testing.
In the July 2 letter from EPD, geologist Steve McManus informed commissioners that they must submit a corrective action plan to remediate the problems with VOCs at the old landfill that have moved under private property. The corrective action plan has a required submittal date of Oct. 31. The date was imposed by EPD because "the county has had problems in the past meeting submittal deadlines." Failure to comply with the deadline will trigger a notice of violation and the imposition of a consent order and a $100 per day penalty for each day the plan is delinquent.
A part of the required process is the public meeting. In the July 2 letter, McManus said that "all corrective measures and contamination reports must be presented in the public meeting." Responding at the meeting to a question about whether the Sept. 18 public meeting satisfied the EPD requirement, Geology Unit Coordinator Pete Dasher said it did not. A date for the next public meeting has not been set.
The landfill was used beginning in the mid-1970s and was permitted by EPD in July 1979. Unlike landfills today, permit requirements did not mandate that preventative measures such as liners be employed.