Drowning Victims Recovered from Palestine Lake in Union County

For immediate release: December 13, 2011
Contact: Karen Parker, 386-758-0525 (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Body of missing boater recovered at Palestine Lake

The body of a missing Lake City man, who was reported overdue from a fishing trip Saturday night, has been recovered from Palestine Lake, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials.

Norris S. Demeritte (DOB 08/31/58) was reported overdue, along with his mother, Emma G. Kelly (DOB 12/23/36), after they had been fishing on Lake Palestine near Lake Butler. Kelly’s body was located at 7:30 a.m. Sunday on the south end of the lake. Demeritte’s body was found this morning and taken to a medical examiner’s office.

Union County Sheriff Jerry Whitehead said, “This is a very tragic incident, and we will keep the family and friends in our prayers.
“We appreciate the hard work and dedication of all the mutual aid rendered during this search. I’d also like to thank the Department of Corrections for their K-9 unit, and their support staff for all their assistance. The Union County Road Department also helped out by grading the road leading to the boat ramp,” Whitehead said.

Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said, “Our hearts go out to the family. Everyone who was involved in the search is saddened by this event. We just hope this brings a little closure for the family and friends who waited patiently while we searched the lake.”

According to FWC officers, the two arrived at the lake at around 8 a.m. Saturday. After they didn’t return from a day of fishing, the FWC was notified. Officers went to the lake and found their 14-foot open fishing boat floating on Lake Palestine, with no one on board, at approximately 1 a.m. Sunday.

A search began for Demeritte and Kelly, involving the FWC, deputies from the Columbia County and Union County sheriffs’ offices, members of the Department of Corrections and the U.S. Forest Service. Weather conditions hampered the search Monday.

Texas-based Equusearch Search and Recovery provided equipment and expertise to assist in locating the victim, at their own expense.
Maj. Lee Beach, regional commander for the FWC, said, “The partnership between the agencies involved in the search was amazing, and I’m extremely pleased with our efforts.”

The family expressed heartfelt gratitude for the efforts made by the searchers.