Collins thanks the many who helped search for son without giving up

Published 9:56 am Thursday, October 6, 2016


When Stan Collins began searching for his son, he was prepared to stay on the Mississippi River indefinitely.

“It was that drive; that dad intuition,” he said. “ I was prepared to stay out there until I found my son. If I found a boot, an arm, a leg, a shirt, anything, I was going to stay on that water until I brought my son home.”

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“If I had to flip that river upside down to get my baby, I was going to do it. That Old Man River had something of mine and I went in there and made sure I got it back. I didn’t give up on my son.”

Collins’ son, Michael, drowned when the 1995 Volvo dump truck he was driving, went into the river at about 5 p.m. on Aug. 23 at the Florida Marine Rock Yard, 2222 Warrenton Road in Vicksburg.

The truck was located later that night deep in the river underneath the barge that contained the rock being unloaded onto the dump trucks. Michael Collins’ body was not recovered until 11 days later, less than a mile downriver from where he went into the water.

“I feel like this has been one of the largest, search, rescue and recovery operations with success that’s ever been done on the Mississippi River,” Collins said. “Because of the fact we were out there every day looking, and we didn’t even realize what we had done until after the fact.

“I was out there every day and night. I probably have skin cancer from the sunburns I received, I probably have lung cancer from all the cigarettes I smoked, and definitely have mouth cancer from all that tobacco I spit in that water looking for my child.”

Collins wasn’t alone.

“With so many volunteers and good-hearted people who stepped up to the plate, they galvanized this community and brought souls and lives together where everybody mattered, instead of nobody,” he said. “We had everybody. It was a tremendous effort on everybody’s part who had a hand in volunteering or donating their time and services to this operation.”

The search involved boats from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Claiborne County and state Wildlife, Fisheries & Park agents covering an area from where the truck entered the water as far south as Natchez. The U.S. Coast Guard broadcast a notice to passing boats on the commercial network telling barge traffic about the drowning.

“It was one of the longest searches where we had a successful recovery,” said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, whose office was involved in the search. “We have had other long searches where we did not have a recovery.”

Collins had special praise for the sheriff’s office.

While not involved in the investigation into the accident, Pace said, the sheriff’s office was responsible for the search for, and recovery of Michael Collins.

“We stayed out as long as we needed to,” Pace said. “The river is very unforgiving. It is deep and has changing currents. In the end we found Michael Collins where we thought we would, in the debris pile at (Entergy’s) Baxter Wilson (power plant).”

He said equipment from Riverside Construction removed sufficient debris to reveal the body, which he and two deputies recovered.”

“We need to be especially thankful for the law enforcement we have in this community,” Collins said. “Law enforcement most of the time always gets a bad rap, and in this situation, not only did the Vicksburg Police Department, but the sheriff’s office and everybody involved with those departments along with the fire department were there by my side through thick and thin.

“We need to praise the people like Martin Pace, Sam Winchester and Jeff Rigs, because at the end of the day, these men are fathers, daddies, and they’re human beings. And with my son’s body being so badly decomposed, they had to go through that by putting him on the bow of that boat and getting him out of the water. That alone would traumatize a human being beyond relief, because my son was literally in bad shape.”

When he began his search, Collins said. He felt lost and very concerned, “Because I knew my odds were against me from the get-go. But then when you have God and Jesus on your side, you never know what’s going to happen. I’m a firm believer, because we are a very Christian family. It was definitely a test of my faith, believe me, and I didn’t give up my faith.”

“I was very lucky. Without people in law enforcement on my side and (other) people involved, this would have never, never happened. The search kept going because they knew I wouldn’t quit. I’m not a quitter. Beating around the bush is not in my equations.

“I am very, very grateful and very appreciative for what they’ve done for my family and myself,” he said of the sheriff’s office and police department. “I commend them for their services. There’s nothing easy about what they do. It’s a tragic human event is what this is. If it weren’t for Martin’s efforts, we never would have gotten my son’s body out of the water.”

Collins said he knows what it is like to lose a parent.

“Now, unfortunately, I know what it’s like to lose a child, and it is absolutely devastating,” he said. “It is unimaginable. I get mad, I get angry, I cry, I get upset. It has literally drug me to actually going crazy. Words cannot describe how the pain is after going through something like this. It just comes out of nowhere and hits you like a drunk driver. And it’s absolutely unbearable.

“My mother is holding up but she is rattled and devastated. The whole family is. I never thought something like this would have ever, ever happened. Utterly shocked.”

He said he is taking his son’s death day-by-day and one step at a time.

“My plans have been ruined,” he said. “My future has been altered. Since the death of my son, my future has been altered. I’ll never get grandbabies by my son. Never get to see him grow up and mature into a man who has a wife and children of his own. He’ll never be able to pass his mother’s legacy and bloodline on. My family is literally wiped out over a senseless tragedy that should have never, never happened.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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