By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Texas EquuSearch needs help in finding missing people, an army of volunteers responds, including the husband and wife team of Dennis and Tammy Watters of Moro, Ill.
Known as Team Watters, the couple was recently involved in the search for a missing Houston woman, Jennifer Ann Scott-Perkins, 48, whose body was found Feb. 17 in her submerged vehicle in the Trinity River just south of the FM 787 bridge in Romayor.
Retired professional crappie fishermen, the Watters have assisted Texas EquuSearch in recovering dozens of bodies from rivers, lands and ponds all across Texas.
“We have had 94 recoveries since we started in 2005,” Tammy said. “We’ve been to Florida, New Mexico, Georgia, Arizona, the Carolinas, Alabama and Rhode Island.”
However, recoveries in Texas account for most of their time.
“Texas has more water than any other state and wade fishing is very popular here and a lot of people drown from wade fishing,” Dennis said. “In fact, the gentleman who drowned in Texas City recently was wade fishing.”
According to Texas EquuSearch Founder Tim Miller, Team Watters has helped clear close to 70 missing persons cases in Texas alone.
“We couldn’t do it without them. We were just in Houston looking for one woman with Alzheimer’s who disappeared in the bayous of Houston. In one day, Dennis and Tammy located 127 vehicles in the bayous of Houston,” Miller said. “Of course, the city never realized there were anywhere near that many cars in the bayou. Those cars are still there because it would be a huge expense to the city to remove them. I don’t think they were very happy for us to report that.”
Miller said the public image of clean landscapes around the Houston bayous looks a lot different when you know what lurks beneath the water.
“They want to keep that image that the banks are nice and clean but underneath, there are 127 vehicles,” Miller said.
Authorities were led to the Trinity River in Romayor to look for Scott-Perkins based on information in their investigation. Three weeks ago, Texas EquuSearch and Team Watters, using sonar, located what appeared to be two vehicles submerged in an area just south of the FM 787 bridge. One of the vehicles, closer to the eastern riverbank, is known to have been in the river for quite some time; the vehicle on the western riverbank was determined to be the most likely area to search for Scott-Perkins.
Their hunch was correct and both the vehicle and the missing woman were recovered on Feb. 17 at the precise location where Team Watters had located the vehicle three weeks prior.
“We weren’t 100 percent sure but we were pretty sure. The river was so high the first time we were here and so dangerous that we didn’t feel comfortable sending anyone in after the vehicle. It was just too dangerous,” Dennis said.
Team Watters uses the same technology they once used as professional fishermen – a Humminbird hull-mounted, side-imaging sonar.
“It’s designed for finding fish. When they invented this technology in 2005, within five days of us having it, we recovered a car with a body in it,” Dennis said. “It has become the national standard for search and rescues. Everyone has them now but not everyone knows how to use them. That’s where we come in.”
Team Watters travels across the country sharing their knowledge with law enforcement and groups like Texas EquuSearch.
“If we can show people how to use the technology, then we don’t have to come back as often and help out,” Dennis said.
Despite his experience with a sonar, Miller said he is no match for Dennis Watters.
“I don’t think I can even be considered as ‘fair’ with a sonar compared to them. I have worked with a wide variety of people, even as far as Aruba, and I don’t think there is a better person in this country with a sonar than Dennis Watters,” Miller said. “I know there aren’t people more dedicated than Dennis and Tammy. I don’t care what the conditions or what they’ve got going on, they are here and they don’t ask for anything in return.”
Scott-Perkins’ vehicle was not initially found on the sonar while search teams were on the river, according to Miller. It was discovered a few hours later as Dennis Watters reexamined the images and videos.
“Dennis was sitting at my house and going through all the recordings. He said, ‘You know what? I think I might have something here,’ and called me over,” Miller said. “When he is off the water, his nose is going through a computer looking at recordings to see if there is something he missed when he was at a location.”
The combined dedication of Team Watters and Tim Miller has brought a lot of closure to families and law enforcement.
“At the end of the day, we can put our heads on our pillows and say, ‘Maybe today we made a small difference,'” Miller said.