Alert UPS driver spots missing man
By Rupert Howell
No expense was spared in an attempt to locate Willie Thomas who had been missing for three days in the Lawrence Brothers Road area east of Batesville. But it was an alert UPS driver who located him–alive–in a creek in the vicinity of his home Thursday morning.
“We don’t care how they are found—a life is a life,” said Emergency Management Coordinator Daniel Cole who was organizing a 50 person search party Thursday morning with Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks when he received the call from UPS driver Chris Henry.
Henry had delivered packages to Thomas’s family a day or so prior to locating him and was aware he was missing and how he was dressed, according to Cole. Henry spotted Thomas from his truck in a creek east of Bethlehem Road on the north side of Highway 6 east of Batesville.
Sheriff Dennis Darby called The Panolian as soon as Thomas was found, trying to get word out the missing person had been located. His department had been just one agency heavily involved in the search for Thomas.
Cole went through what seemed to be a list of departments and agencies who had assisted in the search since Thomas had last been seen at 5:30 Monday night.
Local searchers, including volunteers, sheriff deputies, a drone from Tunica County, a state task force consisting of local and neighboring county and municipal firefighters from as far away as DeSoto County, had all been tasked in the search.
“To tell you the truth, we were getting ready to go from rescue to recovery,” Cole said indicating searchers believed that after three days they may be looking for a body instead of a walking, talking human.
On Thursday morning a state task force consisting of approximately 50 searchers including 20 officers of MDWF&P assembled with approximately 40 of them already searching when the call came from Henry in the UPS truck.
According to Cole he asked, “Are y’all still looking for the missing man? . . . Well, I think I’m looking at him.”
Henry remained at the site. Searchers quickly spotted his UPS truck and found Thomas in the creek apparently in pretty good shape. Cole said his clothes blended with the rock along the creek bank.
With assistance he climbed the rip rap out of the creek bed next to Cole’s pickup where he drank and later got into an awaiting ambulance that transported him to the emergency room for observation and to be “checked out,” according to Cole.
Cole explained that Thomas had in previous years been subject of a search and was later outfitted with a tracking device through Operation Lifesaver, a program that assists response agencies with keeping up with those who may get lost or wander away from their homes or residence’s locations.
Thomas’s situation changed and family thought he no longer needed the service, according to Cole, who says he will now encourage the family and any others with family members prone get lost or wander away, to use the service.
UPS Driver Henry is to be recognized today for his service by being alert and observant.