Photo by Kerry Reid
Pictured Saturday in the area where the body of an Arkansas man was recovered from Chewalla Lake are Marshall County Sheriff Kenny Dickerson, coroner James Richard Anderson, investigator Jason Mills, Matt Ellington with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and investigator Kelly McMillen.
Photo by Kerry Reid
Making their way back to shore after recovering the body are sheriff Kenny Dickerson, coroner James Richard Anderson and Matt Ellington with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Samuel Deward Smith
Body found in Chewalla Lake
The severely decomposed body of an Arkansas man was found by fishermen in shallow waters at Chewalla Lake Saturday morning, according to sheriff Kenny Dickerson.
He said the call to 911 came in around 10:30 a.m. July 29.
Fishermen said they saw what appeared to be a body floating face up in a corner near the road over the levy, the sheriff said.
“They notified us and I hooked my boat here at the jail in case we needed it,” he said.
Dickerson, an avid sportsman, operated the boat and drove it across the lake to shallow water in a hidden cove near the levy. He said the body was floating in shallow water, about one foot deep, near the bank. The cove was covered with vegetation.
An autopsy was conducted Monday at the state medical examiner’s lab in Jackson.
Dickerson said preliminary autopsy results and fingerprint analysis showed the man to be Samuel Deward Smith, 19, of Maumelle (Pulaski County), Ark. Preliminary autopsy findings reveal the cause of death as drowning. But the autopsy was not yet completed as of Tuesday this week.
Coroner James Richard Anderson was called Saturday as soon as the body was located. He later went back to town to get blue tarps that were used to help retrieve the corpse by gently sliding a tarp under the body, then lifting it up and over into the boat.
Dickerson said this method was used in order to preserve the body as much as possible for forensics. The body was identified using fingerprints available to law enforcement that were matched with the prints on the corpse.
Other gross observations of the body by Sheriff Dickerson, law enforcement officers and medical examiners suggest other factors could have contributed to Smith’s death, the sheriff said.
Dickerson said Smith had not been reported missing in Arkansas.
Smith’s father was contacted by phone Tuesday morning, Aug. 1. He said the parents were en route that day from Florida.
The sheriff also spoke with the victim’s sister who received a text from Smith on Tuesday, July 27, that he was going to spend a night or two at Chewalla Lake. The sister told Dickerson that Smith was traveling in a silver Chevrolet S-10 pickup and that he had a dog and a gun in the vehicle with him.
The sister is the last person known to have contact with Smith (via text) before his body was found.
An aerial search was undertaken August 1 around noon for the pickup. A dog (Collie type) possibly matching the description of the one traveling with Smith was located near Lunati Road but not yet caught. Neither the vehicle (with a Texas tag) or the deer rifle reported to be in the pickup have been located.
The cove where Smith’s body was found is located about 100 to 150 feet from the road over the levy.
Officers combed the area near the bank looking for any evidence that might produce more clues.
Officers found a discarded newspaper dated July 12 that was published in Alexandria, La. An old knife missing a blade was also found in the edge of the woods within about 15 feet of the body, Dickerson said. The vegetation in this area appeared crushed.
Because the body was in the water, it was more intact than it would have been if it had been found on land where animals could have disturbed it, the sheriff said.
Dickerson thanked local volunteers and officers for help in retrieving the body and searching for evidence.
“We have a lot of unanswered questions,” Dickerson said.
Officers with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks included Blake Palmer, Danny Mills and Matt Ellington. Deputies with the sheriff’s department included investigators Jason Mills and Maj. Kelly McMillen, and deputies Larry Rankin, Grafton Lowery, David Cook, Robert Fortner and Kerry Reid. Coroner James Richard Anderson also went out on the boat to help with the retrieval of the corpse.
“We thank these men and any others who may have helped at the scene,” the sheriff said.