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Saturday, Apr 19, 2014

Searchers locate bodies, boat of missing fishermen in Lake Tarpon

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Published:   |   Updated: January 2, 2014 at 05:21 PM

TARPON SPRINGS — The bodies of the two Plant City fishermen missing on Lake Tarpon since Saturday night were found Wednesday afternoon, putting an end to a search that had been going on for four days, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office reported.

Two citizen volunteers who had gone out on a boat to help with the search found one of the bodies, and a sheriff’s helicopter then spotted the second one, said Sgt. David DiSano, a sheriff’s public information officer.

Deputies located the fishermen’s boat in approximately 13 feet of water off the east coast of the lake late Thursday afternoon, the sheriff’s office said.

The families of both men, Willie Hightower, 64, and Willie Ragins, 43, were notified, he said. Investigators are unsure what led to the accident, but DiSano said there is no indication of anything suspicious.

“It was a very unfortunate incident,” he said. “The families have been here three or four days now.”

Teronica Dixon, Ragins’ sister-in-law, said the waiting had been “terrible, terrible; it’s not explainable.” At least now there is an ending, Dixon said, though not the one her sister and Ragins’ wife, Salesia Ragins, wanted.

“My sister will be at ease and at peace,” Dixon said. “She can take him home and put him to rest.”

Dixon said her sister last talked to Ragins by phone about 10:20 p.m. Saturday and he said he expected to be home in a couple of hours. He never showed and by the next morning a worried Salesia Ragins was checking with hospitals and finally called the sheriff’s office, Dixon said.

Deputies found Ragins’ green pickup truck parked near Lake Tarpon in Anderson Park, off U.S. 19 and a search of the lake began.

On Sunday, search crews recovered two coolers from the northern part of the lake, along with a chair attached to a post, a tackle box and life jacket. On Monday, crews located a red gas can and small red Thermos.

Also on Monday, searchers used vessels with sonar devices that offer a three-dimensional view of the bottom of the lake.

Ragins’ pickup, with a boat trailer hitched to it, was still in the Anderson Park parking lot Wednesday evening as darkness set in and members of both men’s families waited for any additional information from deputies after the bodies were found.

Dixon said her sister and Ragins had been together 25 years and married for 21 of those years. They have four children and six grandchildren, she said.

Her brother-in-law loved to fish, she said, so a weekend excursion on Lake Tarpon was not unusual. She said the ordeal had been hard on the families of both men.

“We’re here for both of them,’ Dixon said. “We didn’t want it to end like this.”

rblair@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1853

Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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