Stan Collins spends 11 days helping with search for son

Published 6:29 pm Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Mississippi River is a reckoning force, but so is the power of a father’s love.

On Aug. 23, a dump truck driven by Michael Collins went into the river west of the levee on the Florida Marine Transport property. The truck was recovered, but the young man inside was apparently ejected from the truck on impact from the forceful current of the river.

His body was found Friday afternoon at about 3 p.m., 11 days after he plunged into the river.

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Every day following the incident, Stan Collins, Michael’s father, was out on the water scouring the mighty river and its banks, looking for his firstborn.

Collins vowed to keep searching until his boy was found, and he kept that promise.

“I am not going to sit home and cry,” Collins said earlier in the week, before Michael Collins’ body was recovered. “This river is called Old Man River, but it’s got an old man on top of it. It’s going to be two old men duking it out — Old Man River and Old Man Stan.”

On the day of the accident, the truck Michael was driving rolled into the Mississippi River at about 5:15 p.m. at a spot where trucks from Riverside Construction Co. were moving lime rock on a barge to another location at a Florida Marine Transport site.

Michael’s truck was waiting on a downward incline to get a load of limestone when the accident happened.

Boats from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office were called in to search the area. Ergon Marine sent in riverboats and the Vicksburg police and firefighters responded. The Vicksburg Fire Department’s dive team was called in and later Riverside Construction brought in commercial divers, who eventually located the truck.

“Martin Pace and Chief Armstrong and everybody that has been involved have been super, super helpful,” Collins said. “The whole town and county have come out in support.”

To also aid in the search, Collins said a friend, Buddy Smith, who is the owner of Smith Marine in Jackson, personally loaned him a boat for the search.

“He and I are friends. I had not seen him in very long time, but I called him and told him what happened and he said, ‘Send a man over here in an hour, and I will have you a boat.’”

Paul Powers, another one of Collins’ friends, also offered the use of a boat. It became Collins’ source of transportation on the river because of its size and capabilities. It is a bigger boat, and because of its power, it was easier to maneuver up close to the riverbanks, Kerry Howell said.

Howell is a friend of Collins and rode along to help with the search.

Collins said his son, 22, liked his job at Riverside Construction. He had been working there on and off for about two years and had been in his current position for about a month.

On Monday following the accident, Collins drove the boat further down the river to Natchez hoping for some evidence of his son. He found nothing, but he did receive a text the following day from the neighboring river city, which said their local law enforcement would carry on his search in their area.

On Tuesday, Collins was back in the waters around Vicksburg.

Driving by the site of the accident, he pointed out that the company had made some changes due in part to the accident. Workers were wearing life vests and concrete blocks were placed alongside the incline, he said.

After pointing out where Michael’s truck had gone into the water, he revved up the boat’s engine and headed toward a vacant platform barge less than a mile down the river, which is where he thought Michael could be.

The oversized metal pipes that protruded from the water seemed to be serving as a stopgap for all kinds of tree debris and a snag for anything moving south, and because of the force of the current and the depth of the waters in this area, Collins said it would be nearly impossible for divers to go in and search for Michael.

Michael’s body was found among river drift debris near the Baxter Wilson power plant, about 1,000 yards from where the truck entered the water.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said a crew from Riverside Construction, using a crane that was mounted on a barge, was removing some debris when the body surfaced.

“Can you imagine what my little boy went through about the first four minutes? Words can’t describe what I feel right now,” Collins said.

When asked to describe his son, Collins’ eyes lit up and his mouth curved upward into a smile.

“Michael loved to hunt, fish, mud ride and hang out with friends. He called himself country,” Collins said, “and some people even called him Big Country. Michael loved his dipping tobacco, and he lived his life wide open.”

He also loved little children and the day before the accident he had even offered to take his 9-year-old brother, Tristan, fishing.

Collins said his son was a very outgoing young man and never met a stranger.

“And he had a large sense of humor. He had this Igloo cooler and had caught a small alligator and brought it home to Tristan. They named it Snappy,” he said.

The baby gator was eventually returned to the water, Collins said, so no one would get into any trouble.

And then there was Michael’s pride and joy — his truck.

“Michael loved his truck. It used to be my service truck. He fixed it up, put a lift kit on it, new tires and 18-wheeler exhaust stacks. It was the baddest truck at Warren Central,” Collins said.

Father and son shared much through the years, but Collins said it was Michael’s relationship with his mother, Leisa Collins, that was special to his son.

“I was an over-the-road trucker, so I was gone during the weekdays,” Collins said.

This allowed for mother and son to develop a very close bond.

“His mom loved him more than she loved life,” Collins said, and when she died, it was hard on Michael.

Michael was only 16 when Leisa died of an unexpected heart attack, and it had only been this year that Collins said his son had finally come to terms with her death.

This year on her birthday, Michael went to her gravesite and cleaned up around it and  placed a cut rose at her headstone, Collins said.

Life has not dealt Collins a fair deal either.

He lost his wife and spent 11 days feverishly riding the river in search of his son.

“I guess God figured I needed a good adventure on this river looking for my son because I’m a truck driver. I’m no tugboat pilot, but I can do anything because I’m tough. And if I have to go all the way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, I will go all the way New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico to find my son. If I have to sell my house to find my boy I will. I am not going to leave not one stone unturned. This is what real men do and thank God I have the ability of being a real man to do something like this, and the knowledge to do something like this and the resources. I will sell everything I have to find my son. I will not leave here until my son is found. I will be in this water everyday,” he said.

Mission accomplished.

“Everything has been a blur and a nightmare, but to tell you the truth, I feel calm and at peace right now,” Collins said shortly after his son’s body was recovered on Friday. “My sweet boy loved his mother more than anything on this earth, and I know he is in heaven in her arms right now.”

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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