Although there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of a New York couple whose bodies were found on the Suwannee River last weekend, their son Leigh Maynard and a friend offer some insight into who the couple were.
The bodies of Auburn, N.Y. residents Grace C. Maynard, 73, and James J. Maynard, 74, were discovered floating in the Suwannee River. Grace Maynard's body was found Friday, March 21, at 9:20 a.m. floating in the river downstream from the Highway 51 bridge in Mayo and James Maynard's body was found Sunday, March 23, floating approximately 1.6 miles upstream from Dowling Park, officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) said.
Officials were able to identify the couple after discovering a floating cooler about three miles upstream from where Grace Maynard’s body was discovered that had James Maynard's wallet inside. Their truck was located at the Gibson Park boat ramp outside of Jasper, apparently where they launched from, and further identification was made after checking the truck's registration and Grace Maynard’s New York driver license photo.
It was learned that the Maynards were registered guests at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park campground in White Springs. Park Manager Michelle Waterman explained that the canoe ramp at the park has been closed off since river levels reached 65 feet and it is still closed.
According to investigators, the Maynards launched a lime green and white, 13-foot Gheenoe-type boat with a New York registration and a two and a half horse powered engine from Gibson Park in Jasper, which is where their truck was later located. Somewhere along the Suwannee River between Gibson Park and Hwy. 51 in Mayo something happened, causing the Maynards to enter the water, FWC stated. The boat has not yet been found.
“Based on items in their cooler and RV, we think it's most likely the accident happened during the afternoon of Thursday, March 20,” said Leigh Maynard. “We don't know what caused them to overturn, and we don't know what their assessment was of the risks that day.”
Maynard said the boat model his parents were using that day was more stable than most.
“They were wearing life preservers, but the river was running high and fast, even though it looks peaceful in the photo,” he said. “Clearly, they encountered a hazard they didn't expect, but in every aspect of their lives they were very safety conscious. These are people who never even had a fender bender in their entire life.”
Maynard explained that his parents have boated on the Suwannee River every year for the last 10 years and that they were both physically active and healthy.
Barry Bullock, a former coworker of James Maynard, echoed the sentiments of the couple's son.
“Being the common sense type of guy that he was, I have no doubt that whatever happened to them on the water took them completely by surprise,” he said.
Bullock said he and Maynard both worked at Syracuse Supply Company, an upstate New York Caterpillar dealership. He had only met Maynard's wife a half dozen times at company functions over the years, but he said she was a friendly and lovely lady.
“Jim was known around the company as one of those mild mannered all around nice guys,” he said. “He was an amazingly intelligent person who created and designed hydraulic/electrical systems for retrofitting components to CAT machinery. He was our chief problem solver and was never too busy to help out or answer questions.”
Bullock said Maynard possessed a subtle sense of humor and was always ready with a smile.
“While I didn't have an outside work relationship with Jim, I considered him my friend, as well as co-worker,” said Bullock. “I have been in contact with several former and current employees who all feel a deep sense of loss for the passing of such a great individual. It was my pleasure to have made Jim's retirement plaque for him. Something I had done for many other employees over the years.”
Karen Parker, spokesperson for the FWC, stated by e-mail that officials were still searching for the Maynard's boat and they were still awaiting results from the medical examiner's office as to cause of death.
“Hopefully, we'll have something next week,” said Parker.
FWC asks that if anyone knows the whereabouts of the boat they should call the Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922.
Meanwhile, the family continues making final arrangements for James and Grace Maynard.
Leigh Maynard summed it up, saying, “There are some questions I don't think will ever be answered.”
Officials from the FWC, Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office and Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office assisted in finding the body of James Maynard. FWC officials are continuing the investigation.