Shirley Hatch, Branford News
A leisure afternoon on the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers near Branford turned into a tragedy for a local family and friends.
The body of Richard Drew Combee, 19, was recovered at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday evening approximately three quarters of a mile from where friends reported he went into the water late Sunday afternoon while boating with four friends along the rivers.
A preliminary investigation by Sgt. Neil Martin with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Combee and four other young adults left Sandy Point on the Suwannee County side of the Santa Fe River at approximately 1 p.m. Sunday. They spent the afternoon ski-boarding and boating along the two rivers in a 20-foot Monterey inboard outboard vessel.
Lt. Donald R. Buchanan, watch commander, law enforcement division with FFWCC said Monday afternoon it appeared Combee fell off the side of the water craft, a short distance down river from the mouth of the Santa Fe on the Suwannee River. That is where the search began on Sunday evening, and continued into Tuesday.
Sgt. Martin, investigator, said he received a call at approximately 8:30 p.m. Sunday, June 22, saying there was a person missing from a boat that had been on the river during the afternoon.
Sgt. Martin responded to the Sandy Point Marina location where he met with four other passengers who gave him details on the missing boater. According to Sgt. Martin he immediately put out a BOLO in the adjoining counties as to what had happened and soon had officers on land and water assisting with a search.
Martin said, "we continued to search the area, until approximately 1 a.m. Monday morning when fog and other dangerous conditions caused us to shut down until daylight came. We resumed our search until late Monday. On Tuesday morning dive teams determined how they could help with the search and rescue, taking into consideration the rising river and the dark murky water.
In the water craft with Combee were Dustin Lee Gilbert, 17, of Valdosta; Robert Carl Phon, 20, of Live Oak; Matt John Alford, 18, of Live Oak, and Kendra L. Colvin, 18, of Live Oak. Sgt. Martin said Phon appeared to be the driver of the boat which was registered to John P. Alford, father of one of the passengers.
Sgt. Martin said, "I work most of the accidents in this area. I find in almost every boating fatality that occurs, the person did not have on lifesaving equipment, which is the case here. It is not a law for persons over six years of age to wear the equipment. The majority of the time if they had on the equipment they would have been better able to deal with the current or whatever else may occur."
Martin said, the four victims that made it to land were shaken up and were assisted by Suwannee County EMS. "They were able to take me to the accident scene which was more than likely about eight miles from where they came to call for help." Martin said.
The four survivors said although they were shaken up they went to a primitive boat ramp and searched and called out to their friend before going for help, according to Sgt. Martin.
Drew Combee graduated from Branford High School with the Class of 2002. His parents are Angie and Tim Combee of McAlpin. He has an older brother Ryan and a younger brother Jared.
Lafayette County Sheriff, Carson McCall and local deputies, as well as deputies from Gilchrist and Suwannee County, were on hand to assist in the search.
Funeral services are incomplete as of Wednesday morning.