Fisherman on Suwannee River

Boater’s Body found in Suwannee River

The Tragedy and Hope of one Boater’s Story

The search and rescue for respected lawyer Robert Byerts ended tragically last week. On Sunday, he set off for a relaxing day on the water. By Tuesday his day trip had turned into a nightmare for his friends and family and a sad reminder for the boating community.

Missing Boater’s Body Found

On Sunday night March 12, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began searching for the 58-year old Tallahassee lawyer who disappeared from his 17-foot Boston Whaler. The boat was found on the water with the engine running, but without anyone on board.

For three days, family, friends and co-workers struggled with the unanswered questions about their loved one. The FWC, along with the Lafayette, Dixie, and Columbia County Sheriff’s Offices dive crews, carefully searched the area. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office also brought their side-scan sonar and K-9 team to assist with the search.

On the third day, they reluctantly acknowledged that the search and rescue had ended in a search and recovery, and retrieved his body from the Suwanee River north of Dorothy Land Boat Ramp.

Tragic Reminder of the Importance of Water Safety

Although the exact details of the accident and cause of death are not known at the time of this writing, the incident ironically coincides with the timing of the annual ‘Spring Aboard’ program sponsored by the FWC and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). This year’s drive to increase boater safety awareness runs the week immediately following his passing, March 19 – 25.

One of the primary components of the program is to remind boaters that because Florida has the highest number of boating accidents in the nation, legislation was passed to encourage enrollment in boating safety courses. As an incentive, enrollment in a course approved by both the FWC and NASBLA will reduce registration fees.

Completion of a course is mandatory for those born after 1988 and optional for those born prior to 1988. Upon successful completion of a course, a safety ID certifying completion of the course will be issued. If the boater is covered by Florida’s mandatory boater education law, an ID card will also be issued by the state of Florida.

Legacy of Robert Byerts

As friends and family mourn his absence, the community comes together to share memories of his contributions and character. He is fondly remembered as a valued professional at Bass Sox Mercer law firm with an individual style and sense of humor. He won the esteem of allies and adversaries alike.

In the bigger picture, through his death he joins the statistics of unfortunate water accidents in the Florida state record book. Although the autopsy and investigation will likely conclude he took all possible safety measures and succumbed to an unavoidable event, the high-profile nature of his loss could still motivate others to greater safety efforts. His story could be that last motivational prod one person needs to either obtain or refresh the boat safety training that prevents them from suffering a similar fate. His final legacy may be stirring others to action, saving a life he never even knew.


Hurricane Hermine Relief Efforts are Finally Federally Approved

Hurricane Hermine struck the Big Bend on the second of September, and President Obama just declared the hurricane a major disaster on Sept. 28, 2016. The people of North Florida and Tampa Bay have been devastated by the hurricane in many ways; this declaration has come just in the nick of time.


The declaration that President Barack Obama enacted provides the victims with the following:


  • Temporary housing is available for all those who need it
  • Federally-backed grants will be issued to the victims to repair their homes
  • Low-cost loans will be available to cover uninsured losses


Of course, these contributions only cover some of federal relief that these victims will receive. The goal is to help people and business owners in the area get back on their feet.


Cries Urging the President to Act


One should keep in mind that it took almost a month for President Barack Obama to do something for the people of Florida, which the people took notice of. Keep in mind that governor Rick Scott officially declared the natural catastrophe to be a major disaster on Sep. 20. The governor said that the state sustained $36 million in damages.


Senator Bill Nelson urged the President to grant the request by submitting a letter stating his plea. Marco Rubio, who is another famed senator, also submitted a personal letter to Obama requesting that he quickly declared the situation a major disaster.


The Declaration is Opening the Doors of Relief


The initial request asked for aid for specific areas where the hurricane struck the hardest. The residents of these counties are definitely grateful for the aid, but the government is not done; it is looking for more people to help.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been tasked with finding other counties that might have been seriously affected by the hurricane. The agency is attempting to asses the damage that has not been reported and other countries that can be covered by President Obama’s declaration.


Non-Profit Organizations and Local Governments Need Help, too


The aid provided by President Obama also extends to non-profit organizations and local governments that are attempting to provide as much help as possible for the residents of the affected areas.


These organizations and governments know the region, which makes the aid imperative during disasters of this magnitude. Some of these organizations and local governments might have some damage to deal with as well. President Obama’s declaration will also help these helpers get back on their feet so they can get back to assisting others.


Many people in North Florida might need help right now. It is hard for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to find everyone, but it is trying. This is why the agency is urging the people of Florida to apply for federal aid through the agency’s website. Those affected could also apply through the site or just by calling the 1-800-621-3362 number. Keep in mind that business owners can apply, too.


Herman Williams Dies at 19

On Monday, June 20th, 2016 Herman Williams collapsed during a basketball game at the First Baptist Marianna where he was playing a pick-up game with some friends he had graduated high school with. After he collapsed he was taken to Jackson Hospital, where they were unable to revive him. Herman Williams was only nineteen, and the cause of his death has not yet been determined. The Medical Examiner’s Office has jurisdiction over the body of Williams and are currently looking into the cause of the death.

Williams had just graduated from Marianna High School this past Spring and had a scholarship in place to attend Louisiana-Lafayette College for basketball in the Fall. The community is mourning the loss of this rising basketball star, and students of Marianna High School held a candlelight vigil on Tuesday at the flagpole of his old high school to pay their respects to their former classmate. Also two of William’s former coaches expressed their condolences:

  • One of William’s former coaches Travis Blanton said that “no one could dislike William’s, he was a great kid in every way.”
  • Another coach of William’s Matt Anderson said that “William’s was an incredibly hard worker, a great team leader, vocal, put the team first! Just a great young man, very cordial, mannerly, knew how to act and carry himself, personified a “high character” student-athlete.”

Not only did Williams play basketball, he also played football at Marianna High School, the team is called the Bulldogs. His 6 foot 3-inch stature though earned him his scholarship for basketball over football at Louisiana-Lafayette College. Well attending Marianna High School, Williams played basketball all four years, although he had an injury that kept him out of the game most of his junior year, he made a come back his senior year. He averaged eighteen points a game, leading his team to twenty wins and eventually the playoffs his senior year.

Williams was scheduled to leave for college in just two short weeks to join Louisiana-Lafayette College and play for their basketball team, everyone knew he had such a bright future ahead of him. While attending one school, Williams played basketball and he was assigned jersey #0, and that stuck with him. His family had to special order the jersey for the college he was attending because they did not have that number on their team currently. William’s family asked if they could keep the #0 jersey as it had already been paid for and they are going to use it for his star shooting guard. Williams was very close to his family, so this is a very devastating time for them. Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin released a statement to the press after he heard the news of William’s passing, he stated that William’s was “going to be a perfect compliment to our team, both as a person as well as a basketball player.” He will not only be greatly missed by his family, his former classmates, and coaches, but he will also be missed by the Louisiana-Lafayette College basketball team he was set to join in just a couple of weeks.