Two men drown on Roanoke River

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 10, 2004

GASTON – The muddy waters of the Roanoke River claimed the lives of two men near here Tuesday morning.

Willie Ben Powell, 74; his son, Willie Melvin Powell, 45; and family friend, Frank Blunt, 63, put in on the Roanoke near the Gaston landing sometime early Tuesday for a fishing trip.

According to the sole survivor, Willie Ben Powell, the three set anchor near some pylons, but decided to move up river.

When the anchor was taken up, the boat turned sharply and apparently threw the men together into one corner of the boat, lifting the front of the boat out of the water, and then tossing the three into the river.

Northampton County Sheriff Wardie Vincent said this when they believe the boat began to take on water and eventually capsized.

&uot;We got the call around 8:25 Tuesday morning,&uot; Vincent said. &uot;Some fishermen in the immediate area saw what was happening and were able to get to Willie Ben Powell and pulled him safely from the water.

&uot;By the time the fishermen got to the boat, which was about a 16-foot aluminum boat with a small motor, they found the second victim, Willie Melvin Powell, trapped under the boat, dead,&uot; Vincent added.

From that point, emergency personnel were called to the scene and a search for the third victim began.

Cadaver dogs from Cumberland County were brought to the scene and the search continued into late Tuesday.

&uot;We were able to get a fix on about where we thought the other victim might be and around 9:40 a.m. Wednesday, we were able to take his body from the river,&uot; Vincent said.

&uot;This is a tragic situation,&uot; he continued. &uot;This is the first and second deaths on the river this year and it seems the Roanoke claims at least that many lives each year.

&uot;I feel for the families of these two men and I feel for Mr. Powell having lost his son. This is very tragic,&uot; Vincent added.

In all, rescue teams from Roanoke Valley Rescue, the Littleton Volunteer Fire Department, Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, the Roanoke Rapids Police Department and members of Northampton County law enforcement offices responded to the scene.

Gaston Police Department dedicated officers to the search mission and in addition to the Cumberland County dogs being brought, sonar equipment was brought in by the Norfolk, VA. Police Department.

&uot;Area businesses provided food and drinks for the rescue teams,&uot; Vincent said. &uot;The response from area rescue and law personnel was tremendous and the support of locals was just as tremendous.

&uot;I’m very thankful to all who participated. As with any situation like this, you can only wish there was a better ending, but I do want to thank all those who risked their lives and gave of their time to help in the search,&uot; he concluded.

All three men were from Emporia, VA.