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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Body of missing SML boater recovered
Divers found body with two sunken vessels

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

By K.A. WAGONER - Staff Writer

The body of a Vinton man, who had been missing since July 31 when the boat in which he was riding collided with another boat on Smith Mountain Lake, was recovered Saturday afternoon by divers.

The body of Ronald Lemons, 73, was brought to the surface about 1 p.m. by officers with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), according to Sgt. Karl Martin.

After eight days and nights of searching for the sunken boats with sonar equipment in a deep, treacherous area of the lake, a target area was located with a new piece of sonar equipment from the VDGIF office in Williamsburg, Martin said. The original sonar equipment was damaged during the prior days of searching as it became entangled numerous times in the tall trees standing beneath the water's surface.

Once a target area was located Friday night, VDGIF Officers Jeremy Hood from Pittsylvania County and Mitch Booden of South Hampton County dived down about 86 feet early Saturday morning to take photos of the sunken vessels, Martin said.

"Before we located the wreckage, it was not safe to send divers down because of the treacherous nature of the area," Martin said. "We did not want to send divers down into those trees looking for a 'needle in a haystack'."

"By this time, it was a recovery, not a rescue effort," Martin added. "We searched the shoreline for days, hoping to locate Mr. Lemons, hoping that somehow he survived."

The wreckage was located about 150 yards from where the two boats collided, near the entrance to Craddock Creek, Martin said.

The heavy downpours during Saturday's recovery effort were a blessing in disguise, Martin said, with the weather conditions reducing boat traffic on the lake.

The body has been sent to the medical examiner's office in Roanoke for an autopsy, Martin added.

Lemons was a passenger in a bass boat that collided with a 37-foot cabin cruiser about 9:30 p.m. on July 31. Both boats sank.

James McCulloch, 64, of Moneta, who was operating the bass boat, was airlifted to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Martin said.

Two men and a juvenile male from Greensboro, N.C., who were aboard the cabin cruiser, were rescued from the water just after the collision, Martin said. None of them sustained injuries.

None of the boaters were wearing life jackets at the time of the collision, Martin said.

Volunteers with Smith Mountain Lake Fire and Rescue assisted the VDGIF with the search efforts.

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