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Man drowns in pond at Berry Hill
SoVaNow.com / April 20, 2014A Halifax man drowned Saturday after a canoe carrying him and a fishing companion flipped over in a pond on the property of Berry Hill Resort. One of the men was able to swim to safety on the nearby bank; the victim went under and his body wasn’t discovered until the next morning, Easter Sunday.
The deceased is Christopher Darius Tucker, 42, of Halifax.
He and a friend, Gregory Conner of South Boston, were fishing on the pond at Berry Hill when, according to conservation police with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, one of the men rose up to bring a fish into the boat. The motion caused the canoe to flip over, tossing both men into the water about 20 yards from the bank.
The accident happened around noon on Saturday. Search efforts throughout the day, aided by sonar and dive teams, did not turn up the body before nighttime when the operation was suspended. DGIF divers returned to the scene Sunday morning around 7:30 and 45 minutes later found Tucker’s remains, tangled in vegetation about 12 feet below the surface.
Divers also found Tucker’s rod and reel with a fish still on the hook, according to his sister, Venus Harris.
Greg Conner told her and other members of Tucker’s family what had happened to cause the boat to flip over, said Harris. “He told us Chris was leaning over to get the fish … and stood up in a squat to try to get it.”
Her brother did not know how to swim, said Harris.
The fishing expedition included two other members — Tucker’s brother, Rodney Tucker, and nephew, Jovanathan Tucker. They were fishing from the bank when they witnessed the accident. Their call to 911 came at about noon Saturday.
The pond, located off to the left of the long drive that leads into Berry Hill, is dense with water lilies, but DGIF officers said Tucker’s inability to swim was a more significant factor than the vegetation in causing the death.
Neither man was wearing a personal flotation device, nor was any kept in the canoe.
“There was no evidence of personal flotation devices on them or in the vessel that we can see,” said Hart.
“PFDs, if properly worn, increase the likelihood you’ll survive a capsizing,” he added.
First to respond to the noontime emergency were members of the Halifax County rescue squad and South Boston police and fire departments, followed by DGIF conservation police who reached the scene around 12:30. DGIF deployed a search vessel equipped with side-scan sonar to find the body, but the sonar “wasn’t as productive” as it would be in less overgrown waters, said Hart.
“Anytime you have lily pads and vegetation in the water, it does make it harder to find a victim.”
DGIF and the local rescue squad dive team also had divers combing beneath the surface of the water, but it wasn’t until the search effort resumed Sunday that a game department diver was able to find and retrieve Tucker’s remains.
The day-long search operation on Saturday drew a gathering of family, friends and onlookers to Berry Hill, only a short distance from the front gate. Kerry Harris, Tucker’s brother-in-law and Venus Harris’ husband, arrived hours after the accident was first reported after being in Roxboro, N.C. earlier in the day. Harris said Tucker and Conner were close friends who enjoyed going fishing. After Saturday’s fatal accident, however, Conner said he “was done with fishing. That’s it,” said Harris, recalling a conversation between Conner and family members.
Venus Harris called her brother’s fishing companion “like a member of the family. He’s friends with the whole family, everybody.”
The pond at Berry Hill was one of their favorite fishing spots, she added.
The men did not have permission to fish on the premises of Berry Hill, said resort manager Martha Borg: “They did not ask, nor were they granted permission. I was not aware that they were on the property until after the accident occurred.
“The ponds and extended acreage are not open to the public. No one has permission to fish or swim. Such use is considered trespassing. Use of motorized vehicles to access the ponds is also strictly forbidden. Consumption of alcohol, not purchased from Berry Hill, on our grounds is not permitted,” Borg said in an e-mailed statement.
She called the fatality “a very sad incident.”
Tucker owned a lawn care and tree service based at his Chestnut Creek Road home in Halifax. His remains have been taken to Richmond for an autopsy; the family is in contact with Jeffress Funeral Home in South Boston about funeral arrangements later this week.
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