Search continues for boater missing since May 11

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   BUTLER -- Investigators from the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Management Agency along with a special search and rescue team are continuing the search for a man whose boat was found abandoned near Midway Marina earlier this month.
   On Thursday, TWRA investigators and members of the Tennessee Search and Rescue Dog Association searched Watauga lake despite rainy weather to attempt to locate James Elliot Lanza, 50, of Boone, N.C. who was determined to be missing by the owner of Midway Marina, Bill Harry, on May 11 after Harry found Lanza's boat floating abandoned in the water.
   At this point, investigators are searching for Lanza's body in the Roans Creek area where his boat was last seen. "What we've done is we've called in some assistance from some dog handlers here," said Dennis Ward, who works with the TWRA and is the chief investigator on the Lanza case.
   The Tennessee Search and Rescue Dog Association uses specially trained dogs to aid in recovery efforts. The TSRDA brought three specially trained cadaver dogs with them to aid TWRA officials.
   Ward stated that the TWRA brought the TSRDA in to help because they wanted to be completely thorough in the investigation. "Its another avenue that we felt like we needed to try," he said. "With the attempts we had made so far, we had not been able to locate anything and we wanted to make sure we tried every avenue to make sure we didn't miss anything."
   TWRA investigators and TSRDA handlers and canines searched the shore lines and water around 9 a.m. on Thursday to locate the missing man. By Thursday afternoon, rainy weather caused teams to return and wait.
   Ward stated that, during the morning hours, the dogs had not located anything of significance. "The dogs showed some interest in a couple of areas and we are hoping to get back out and investigate those further," he said, as he and other members of the search team waited out the rain on shore. "So far we don't have any strong evidence that they were able to locate anything."
   Search team members were able to get back into their boats and onto the lakes Thursday afternoon to continue the search. Ward said that if they were unable to finish up with the TSRDA team on Thursday, they did have tentative arrangements for the TSRDA team to return on another date and help in the search.
   Ward anticipates that using the specially trained cadaver dogs will help out in the search. "It's a pretty affective search method," he said. "You can cover a fair amount of area in a short time."
   The dogs themselves are all certified as cadaver dogs through the National Association of Search and Rescue, according to one of the handlers, who wished to remain nameless due to the nature of some of the cases he assists in investigating. The canines and their handlers go through 12 to 24 months of specialized training in order to become certified, at which time both the dog and the handler must certify.
   The dogs are able to detect the presence of a body by scent, according to the handler. "Once the body decomposition process starts, the dogs can begin to pick it up," he said. One factor that might pose a problem in the investigation with the dogs is the temperature of the water and the depth of the lake where the investigators are looking. "The colder the water and the deeper, the longer it takes for decomposition of the body to start."