Alabama Marine Police Patrol Officer John Williams said 23-year-old Jerry Dustin Smith of Hartselle drowned Wednesday around 8:20 p.m. while fishing near the mouth of Rock Creek on the Winston County side of Lewis Smith Lake.
“Mr. Smith is the first drowning victim we’ve had on Smith Lake in two years. He was fishing with another gentleman when he apparently fell overboard, off the back of the boat, and drowned,” Williams said. “The boat’s operator, the gentleman fishing with Mr. Smith, said he heard a splash, and got up to see what happened, but never saw Mr. Smith come back up. He believes the victim went straight down.”
The witness told authorities he shined his light all around the boat, but saw no sign of Smith struggling in the water. He immediately called Winston County E-911. Emergency personal arrived on the scene and searched the area for several hours before calling off the search due to darkness.
Authorities had gotten an approximate location of where the two men were sitting in the boat when Smith went overboard.
Emergency personnel marked the spot with a dive bouy and resumed their search Thursday morning.
“It was probably one of the fastest recoveries I’ve ever been on, the divers did an excellent job,” Williams said. “They went into the water around 10:30 and within a minute and a half they had located the victim’s body, within a few feet of where we had placed the dive bouy.”
Williams said Smith’s body was recovered by Arley Police Chief Aaron Brown and Winston County Sheriff’s Deputy Wes Brown an estimated 30 feet from the shoreline in about 35 feet of water. It has been sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.
“According to his family, Mr. Smith was an Iraqi war veteran and had some medical problems, but we don’t know if that attributed to the accident,” Williams said. “Sadly, he was not wearing a life preserver when he fell overboard. They had life preservers in the boat, which is required by law, but unless you put it on it doesn’t help anything.”