Va. man drowns at millpond

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 27, 2006

GATESVILLE – Drowning appears to be the cause of death of a Virginia man pulled from the waters of Merchant’s Millpond State Park near here early Saturday afternoon.

Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb identified the victim as 50-year-old Peter “Paul” Constanzer of New Kent, Va.

On Monday afternoon, eastern North Carolina Medical Examiner Dr. M.G.F. Gilliland ruled there was no foul play involved in the death.

Following an 80-minute search on Saturday, Constanzer’s body was discovered in 6-to-8 feet of water at approximately 12:45 p.m. between Buoy #7 and Buoy #8 in the main section of the millpond.

The Gates County Sheriff’s Office, Merchant’s Millpond Park Rangers, Gates County EMS, Gates County Rescue and NC Wildlife Commission officers were involved in the search, one that began at 11:26 a.m.

Webb said Constanzer was joined by a group of five friends in an overnight camping excursion at the millpond. The Sheriff added that Constanzer was a frequent visitor to Merchant’s Millpond over the past 15 years. Webb went on to describe Constanzer as “an avid outdoorsman, fisherman and camper.”

“From the information we gathered from his fellow campers, Paul was last seen alive at around 5:30-to-6 p.m. on Friday,” Webb said. “Paul allegedly made a comment to his friends that he had left his glasses in his truck, located at the canoe access area at the millpond, and was going to retrieve them.”

Webb said the group was camping in one of the primitive areas of the park. He said the easiest way to access that area is by canoe.

“You can hike to reach the primitive camping area, but it’s a pretty long walk around the millpond,” Webb said.

The Sheriff said by the next morning (Saturday), Constanzer’s camping companions noted that his bedding material appeared unused.

“His friends then launched a search of their own, paddling their canoes out on the millpond,” Webb said. “At about 10:30 a.m. they discovered his canoe capsized.”

Webb said the location of Constanzer’s canoe was about 200 yards from the campsite and approximately 800-to-1,000 yards from the canoe access area.

A 911 call was received by the Gates County Sheriff’s dispatcher placed at 10:42 a.m.

Merchant’s Millpond Park Rangers were also notified of the incident.

Under the command of Captain Billy Winn, the Gates County Search & Rescue team was joined by Gates County EMS Director Wendy Noble, Merchant’s Millpond Park Superintendent Jay Greenwood, Sheriff Webb and NC Wildlife Commission officers in coordinating the search. Three power boats and several canoes were used.

Webb said a life jacket, paddle and shoes were found floating in the water near Constanzer’s capsized canoe. The Sheriff added that the use of alcohol was apparently involved in the incident.

“It was a well-organized search,” Webb concluded. “We were hoping for a happy ending, but sadly that wasn’t the case.”

NC Wildlife Commission officers listed the incident as a boating accident.