Search continues for teens swept away in Oconee County waterway

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The massive recovery effort for two teens who were swept away by raging waters in Oconee County on Friday afternoon continued Monday. The sheriff was also working hard to dispel rumors.

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Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry said the 18-year-olds went under at the Falls of Oconee located on Barber Creek around 3:45 p.m. on Friday. Deputies said Cameron Smith jumped into Barber Creek in an attempt to save Bryant Wade. Officials said the waterway was swollen due to all the runoff from the recent rain and the conditions were extremely dangerous.

Nearly 200 volunteers joined the fourth day of searching on Monday. Crews have cleared debris from the creek and labored through murky water. Divers were also in the water as helicopters and drones searched from above. Many of the volunteers were just walking the banks while some took to kayaks.

Sheriff Berry said several of the teen’s relatives have joined the search.

“They requested of us and we accommodated that request. This is personal with the family,” the sheriff said during a press conference Monday. “I think they want to be close. I think they want to feel like they are doing something rather than sitting and home and waiting.”

The sheriff said the focus of the search had shifted Monday to the Oconee River.

Sheriff Berry also addressed several rumors and those who are starting them. In a Facebook post on Monday, the sheriff wrote:

“This morning's update will start with a message to a specific type of person: the rumor mongering, vile, pot-stirrers. You know who you are. Stop it. You are causing additional pain and anguish to families who have an ample supply already.”

"We've had people who start rumors that people are, that people have been found, that they have been seen somewhere, that we found them and that we're not telling the family. Those things simply aren't true,” Sheriff Berry said.

On Saturday the sheriff's office shared a video of the situation at the dam with the water slightly lowered compared to Friday.

"We hope for a miracle but we understand the reality," the sheriff said.

On Friday, Robert “Bryant” Wade’s grandfather, just hours after the incident, discussed his grandson.

“Bryant was a good strong going guy and this is a testimony of how strong the river is people this is real this is really real…and these kids need to pay attention to this,” his grandfather said.

Wade’s grandfather said Bryant was supposed to graduate this summer. He said his grandson was walking along the dam with the water an inch from the top. He then fell in, possibly caused by rising water. Bryant’s grandfather said a second teen saw this and went after him, but the current was too strong.

Rescue crews used infrared cameras and dogs to search for the teens.

“We can’t put crews in the water because the current is too swift. Divers can’t go in and we can’t put a boat in… it’d just get washed immediately downstream. We’re hoping the water will recede if we don’t get any more rain,” said Chief Deputy Lee Weems, Oconee County Sheriff’s Office.

A third person, a woman who was working security nearby, also tried to help but needed to be pulled from the water. She was okay.

The Oconee County Fire Department and several units from Clarke County assisted deputies with the search efforts.

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