Body of missing fisherman found in Beaver Creek after long search

EAST LIVERPOOL The body of a man reported missing Monday evening was recovered from Beaver Creek early Tuesday morning after an exhaustive overnight search which included helicopters, K-9 units and countless emergency personnel.

Jim Smith, 66, Columbiana-Lisbon Road, had left his home at about noon Monday to do some fly fishing at Beaver Creek State Park and at one point had spoken to someone on the phone, advising he was headed downstream toward Gretchen’s Lock, according to assistant Calcutta fire Chief Dave McCoy.

When Smith failed to return home when expected, his wife became concerned.

“It was unusual for him not to come home. He rarely ever missed dinner. When he didn’t show up at 6 p.m., she got concerned,” McCoy said Monday night.

Smith’s wife went to the park, where she found his Jeep, and waited for awhile, but when he failed to return to his vehicle, she called police.

By 8:15 p.m., Calcutta Fire Department had launched a massive search of the park and creek, putting boats and canoes into the water with firefighters and having firefighters, EMS personnel and others walk the rough trails bordering the creek.

Others searched through the wooded areas, even the restrooms, to no avail.

Search teams started in the Sprucevale area of Gretchen’s Lock and headed upstream to the main park, again with no contact with the missing fisherman.

Through the county sheriff’s office, Smith’s phone was “pinged” to determine its location.

“It was in the Jeep’s console. His wife opened the car and said, ‘Here it is.’ We were excited when they gave us his coordinates,” he said with disappointment evident in his voice.

A STAT MedEvac helicopter was called, with McCoy saying the company responds to such requests as a courtesy and that it flew over the area about 45 minutes before needing to refuel.

At one point, the helicopter crew reported seeing a light on an island that turned out to be a broken reflective trail marker that had fallen on the ground, McCoy said.

Highlandtown Fire Department brought its hovercraft to the scene, with the crew traveling upstream as far as state Route 7 south of Beaver Local Schools, again finding nothing.

Glenmoor Fire Department also had firefighters searching, with one taken to the hospital with possible broken ribs after he fell on one of the rocky trails, according to assistant Chief Bill Bennett.

St. Clair Township K-9 team of Chris Davis and Axel and East Liverpool K-9 team of Chad Tatgenhorst and Ivo came to the scene close to midnight, and the canines searched along the creek but “showed no interest” in anything along their route, according to Tatgenhorst.

A helicopter was brought in by the Ohio State Highway Patrol but after just a few minutes in the air turned back due to the heavy fog rolling in.

Weary searchers finally called it a night at about 3 a.m., with McCoy and state Trooper Vic Wolfe informing Smith’s family members the search would resume the next morning at 7 a.m.

True to their word, firefighters took to canoes again about 7:30, with some headed downstream toward the park from the north and others headed south from the main park.

At 8:17 a.m., a call came in to the command post that Smith’s body had been found in the creek about a quarter mile from the main park, with two teen-age searchers in a canoe having spotted it.

Although that area of the creek had been searched thoroughly the previous night, Calcutta fire Chief Scott Smith said it is possible the victim had been submerged at night and only surfaced during the morning hours.

The search and investigation was assumed by the State Patrol due to the park being state property, and Lt. Joe Dragovich of the Lisbon post broke the news to Smith’s waiting family as firefighters and EMTs prepared to take a gurney in a canoe downstream to retrieve Smith’s body.

What followed were several hours of painstaking planning to retrieve the victim from the stream and transport him through the heavily wooded area to a waiting North Star Critical Care ambulance on Ware Road south of the park.

Investigators with the Warren Division of the patrol’s Office of Investigative Services arrived on the scene and spent several hours processing it, taking photographs and with Trooper Todd Jester mapping it.

An airplane was also dispatched by the patrol to take photographs of the area, according to Dragovich.

Coroner’s investigator Sunny Bowers was also on the scene and said Smith’s body was to be transported to Greenisen Funeral Home, from where it would be taken to Summit County for an autopsy.

Although Dragovich and investigator Ron Schneider said there were no signs of foul play, a final determination will depend on the autopsy.

“We treat everything as foul play although there is no indication of that at this point but either a natural death or accidental. We’ll know more after the autopsy,” Dragovich said.

Family members said Smith had just recently learned from his brother to fly fish and they had spent a day together recently doing just that but he had decided to come alone to the park to practice.

He had had a medical issue several years ago for which he took medication, but it was uncertain whether that could have reoccurred, his sister said.

The family declined further comment other than to offer its thanks to the many rescuers who participated, with a family spokesman saying, “They did so much,” also commending Tim Horton’s in Calcutta for providing food and beverages for searchers and the family Monday night.

“You always think it happens to someone else,” Smith’s sister said as she watched firefighters and ambulance crews work to bring her brother from the woods.

Dragovich also made a point of commending those who assisted, saying, “Those firemen are fabulous, dedicated and equally talented. I was very impressed with them. Those guys are awesome.”