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Decatur EMS, Decatur Fire and Rescue and the Marine Police aid Jerry Shepardson, who was stranded near Cowford Landing on Tuesday.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Decatur EMS, Decatur Fire and Rescue and the Marine Police aid Jerry Shepardson, who was stranded near Cowford Landing on Tuesday.

Man rescued after
watercraft capsizes

By Catherine Godbey

An enjoyable escape from the extreme temperatures turned into a dangerous situation Tuesday morning when a personal watercraft capsized in Beulah Bay near Cowford Landing.

A passer-by spotted the craft’s rider, Jerry Shepardson, stranded on his overturned watercraft and alerted Alabama Marine Police.

When Larry Adams, an officer with the Alabama Marine Police, located Shepardson, believed to be in his 80s, he was standing in the water gripping his watercraft, utilizing it as a floatation device.

“I don’t know the exact amount of time he was in the water, but it had to be a good amount because he was shriveled up and very blue when we found him,” Adams said.

Adams described Shepardson as somewhat responsive, answering questions periodically. An ambulance transported Shepardson to Decatur General, where he was treated and released.

Officers are trying to understand the conditions under which the accident occurred. Adams initially believed a combination of the recent drought conditions and high winds led to the predicament.

As a result of the drought, the water level at sections of Beulah Bay dropped to 2 feet. The dry weather also increased the growth of the grass clogging Wheeler Lake.

“There is a solid mat of grass in the bay. It grows extremely well in water less than 10 feet deep and can triple overnight. This motor might have become clogged with it” Adams explained.

When the Morgan County Rescue Squad pulled the watercraft to shore, however, the motor contained no grass.

The winds, blowing northwest across Wheeler Lake, possibly blew Shepardson into the low waters of Beulah Bay.

“We still don’t know the exact reason why this happened,” Adams said, “and we may never know.”

Adams assumes Shepardson recently moved to North Alabama or is visiting because the watercraft had an Illinois tag number. Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources regulations allow visitors to operate a watercraft for 90 days and people relocating to operate a watercraft for 30 days before registering the vehicle locally.

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