River search suspended again

Published 8:09 pm Thursday, March 5, 2009

WINDSOR – For the second straight day, extremely strong currents in the Roanoke River has led to the suspension of a search for a missing Williamston man.

Thursday’s search was called off around 4 p.m. after members of the Norfolk (Va.) Police Dive Team found the strong current too dangerous. Plans are to resume the search on Tuesday of next week pending the river conditions.

“Cold water, zero visibility underwater and floating debris, but the biggest concern was the swift current,” Bertie County Sheriff Greg Atkins said moments after the divers reached dry land. “The river conditions are just unworkable for the dive team.”

Atkins added that a Thursday sonar sweep of the river at the end of Grabtown Road southwest of Windsor confirmed what was found from another underwater probe performed one day earlier.

“There is a car down there, but the strong current never allowed the divers to reach it,” Atkins said. “All they were able to do was hold on to the line tethered to the buoy, the current was that strong.”

When asked if Wednesday’s report of possibly a second vehicle in the same area was accurate, Atkins said sonar revealed another “man made” object near the car, but stopped short of calling it another vehicle.

“It could be a number of things….a discarded refrigerator for example,” he said.

Whether or not the submerged car belonged to or was occupied by Derrick “Guy” Spruill, 38, of Williamston is not known at this time. Spruill has been missing since February 20. Law enforcement officers have called his disappearance suspicious.

On Wednesday, a dive team based in Belhaven did hook onto one car in the same area that was later pulled from the river. However, Atkins said that vehicle apparently is not linked to the missing man case as it was reported stolen in Greenville over one year ago.

Hopefully, the Roanoke River, swollen by releases from the Roanoke Rapids and Lake Gaston dams on Wednesday, will be tamer early next week when the Norfolk Dive Team returns.

On Thursday, the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office boat, piloted by Atkins, had to dodge debris floating in the river as the sonar sweeps were conducted. That debris also presented another problem for the divers.

Anyone with information concerning Spruill’s disappearance or his current whereabouts is asked to call the Williamston Police Department (792-2124), Martin County Crimestoppers (792-8800) or the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office (794-5330).