Update: Man lost in swamp ‘expected to die out there’

OKEECHOBEE — Samuel Smedley said he and friend Roger Shultz just rode their horses around the thick brush and swamp “screamin’ and screamin’. Pretty soon, we heard a scream back.”

And with that, Billy ‘B.J.’ Herrin, who had been missing for almost a week in some thick woods and snake- and alligator-infested swamps around N.E. 304th Street, was found.

Billy James ‘B.J.’ Herrin

Billy James ‘B.J.’ Herrin

The two men put B.J. on Mr. Smedley’s horse and walked him the mile to a waiting ambulance stationed at the Florida Turnpike.

B.J., 36, was first taken Friday, April 29, to Raulerson Hospital. From there, he was transferred to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce. He has since been released from that hospital.

“He was in rough shape,” said Mr. Smedley of B.J. “He was scratched up from head to toe. He went through some of the roughest terrain a man could go through.

“I’m telling you, there’s some bad land out there. And he was in a bad spot where he was found,” added the fence builder, who spent his younger years growing up around Fort Drum and those very woods where he found B.J.

Mr. Smedley, 42, said he and Mr. Shultz were in the woods for over three hours when they finally found the dehydrated and starving man around 6 p.m. It then took them about another hour to get B.J. to the ambulance.

Once they got B.J. to safety, Mr. Smedley and Mr. Shultz then had to make the long trek back to their trucks that were parked on Cemetery Road in Fort Drum. Around 9 p.m. they reached their vehicles, and were on their way home.

With an exhausted and starving Billy ‘B.J.’ Herrin too weak to walk, Samuel Smedley (standing) and his friend Roger Shultz were able to get Mr. Herrin off the ground and onto the back of Mr. Smedley’s horse and carry him to safety. Courtesy photo/Roger Shultz.

With an exhausted and starving Billy ‘B.J.’ Herrin too weak to walk, Samuel Smedley (standing) and his friend Roger Shultz were able to get Mr. Herrin off the ground and onto the back of Mr. Smedley’s horse and carry him to safety. Courtesy photo/Roger Shultz.

Kimberly Herrin, B.J.’s sister-in-law, said Monday, May 2, that the man was having “really bad dreams” and was taking a lot of antibiotics for the infection in the lacerations to his legs and feet. And, she added, he was in a lot of pain.

“His legs are bandaged from his feet to his knees,” she said. “He had on shorts and shoes, but when he was found all he had on were his boxer shorts.

“He said he expected to die out there,” added Mrs. Herrin.

According to a report by Detective Mark Shireman, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), B.J. was in Okeechobee on April 20, to go fishing in a swamp with several of his friends. B.J. was on the back of an ATV that was being operated by Justin Albritton.

On the way to their fishing hole, Justin hit a stump and B.J. fell off the back of the ATV. He was uninjured, so they continued on to the creek.

Later B.J. discovered his phone was missing, so he and Justin returned to the area of the stump where B.J. had fallen off the ATV. But, he could not find his phone.

After a while, Justin was tired and thirsty and ready to leave. So, he decided to leave and told B.J. he would have his brother Kyle Albritton come back to pick him up.

But, when Kyle arrived at the stump, B.J. was not there. And, he could not be found.

Kyle searched and yelled for B.J., stated the report, but he could not locate the man.

“Justin was worried and clearly upset about them not being able to locate Billy (B.J.),” stated the detective’s report. “Justin stated Billy is not familiar with the swamp.”

When last seen B.J. was wearing shorts, a shirt and tennis shoes.

Soon OCSO deputies, assisted by officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office (SLCSO), were combing the area for B.J.

When Mrs. Herrin, 44, and her husband Phillip, 44, (B.J.’s older brother) found out B.J. was missing, they immediately left their home in Boca Raton and took up residence in an Okeechobee motel until he was found. Phillip grew up in Okeechobee and most of his family still lives around here.

The search for B.J. continued — for days and days and days — until some 4,000 acres was covered.

Finally, on April 29, OCSO Deputy Bryan Holden received a call from Robin Herrin, the mother of B.J.’s child. She said B.J. had been found.

B.J., stated Detective Shireman’s report, “… was in a lot of pain and (he) had wounds all over his body and from his calves down to the bottom of his feet were bleeding and raw.”

“It was pretty much God’s will,” said Mr. Smedley. “We didn’t do nothing no one else wouldn’t have done.”

Mr. Smedley said as he and Mr. Shultz searched the rough terrain they continually called for B.J. And, finally, they heard him faintly call back. The yell was faint partially because of the thick woods surrounding B.J., but mainly because the man was near death.

“He was in the middle of a bay head. It was real thick with a lot of briars. It’s a nasty place to be stuck in the bottom of,” explained Mr. Smedley. “He couldn’t walk no more and his legs were all scratched up. I don’t think he could have made much more.

“That boy was cut up really bad,” he added.

B.J. survived by eating snake berries, a wild and sometimes poisonous berry, and drinking water from his wallet. Detective Shireman explained that the man would soak his shirt in whatever water he could find, then squeeze the water out of his shirt into his wallet. He would then use his wallet like a cup and drink from it.

Although he didn’t know B.J., Mr. Smedley said he has been friends with Phillip Herrin for years.

“I’ve known Phil forever. He and I talked a couple of times about the situation. I told him if I was allowed I’d go out and help,” Mr. Smedley said.

“When I could access the property, I called Roger. If somebody’s out there in the woods, I guess you just go to look for them.”

So, the men put their horses in a trailer and left the Brighton Reservation where Mr. Smedley lives and headed for Fort Drum to search the woods where Mr. Smedley had grown up.

“I hadn’t been out there in 30 years,” he added. “I’ve been in the woods all my life, so it’s kind of hard for me to get turned around. You get an instinct as to where you are.

 

“I asked him (B.J.) if he could hear the turnpike and he said he heard it but it seemed so far away,” added Mr. Smedley.

When asked why the deputies hadn’t been able to hear B.J., Mr. Smedley reasoned that it was because he was so weak the officers couldn’t hear him over the noise of the ATVs they were riding.

Once the two searchers had found B.J. they sat him on a stump and gave him a couple of bottles of water and some Beanee® Weenees.

“It was good to him,” recalled Mr. Smedley.

They then tried to get him on Mr. Smedley’s horse, but the man was too weak.

Samuel Smedley (front) leads his horse and an exhausted and starving Billy ‘B.J.’ Herrin away from a swamp and to a waiting ambulance at the Florida Turnpike. Courtesy photo/Roger Shultz.

Samuel Smedley (front) leads his horse and an exhausted and starving Billy ‘B.J.’ Herrin away from a swamp and to a waiting ambulance at the Florida Turnpike. Courtesy photo/Roger Shultz.

They found a downed tree and were able to get B.J. onto that tree and then onto the back of the horse.

The men then began their mile-long slog to the waiting ambulance.

As he talked about finding B.J., Mr. Smedley had to praise his 9-year-old horse for getting him through the dense underbrush and to the missing man.

“He’s the one that carried me through the rough terrain,” he said. “Our horses were great. They’re used to being in that stuff all the time from working cows.”

Mr. Smedley said he really doesn’t ride his ‘cracker’ horse much any more.
“I’m a fence builder. It’s my horse, but it’s really for my grandkids,” he said.

As he talked about the situation and the fact he and Mr. Shultz were able to rescue B.J. from an almost certain death, Mr. Smedley had one last thought for his friend’s brother.

“The best thing he can do is go to church and thank God. Not too many people go through that,” he said.

(Editor’s Note: Attempts to reach Mr. Herrin for comment were unsuccessful.)

 

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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