Bass Tournament Angler Shot At Lake Oconee

An 86-year-old fishing from the bank reportedly fired several times at a passing bass boat.

GON Staff | May 24, 2007

The passenger in a bass boat that was on plane heading down the Oconee River above Lake Oconee was shot in the arm by an 86-year-old man fishing from the bank.

John Burke “Pete” Yearwood of Madison was arrested by Greene County deputies and jailed on an aggravated-assault charge. He was released that day on a $5,000 bond.

The shooting occurred Saturday, May 19 at about noon. The boat carrying two anglers competing in a Berry’s Boat Dock bass tournament was traveling down the Oconee River about a mile above Dyers Pasture when Yearwood fired at least three shots with a .22 rifle, according to the Sheriff’s Department report. Two shots hit the water, and as the driver of the boat accelerated away, the passenger, Craig Barnett, 56, a pastor with Grace Family Ministries in Sycamore, was hit in the back of the left biceps. Barnett was treated and released at Boswell Hospital in Greensboro.

The boat driver, Matt Ferman of Greensboro, who is Barnett’s son-in-law, was uncomfortable talking about the incident, but his attorney, Walter Green of Milledgeville, said the shooting was unprovoked. Green said a Sheriff’s Department incident report inaccurately states the boat was traveling up the river.

“Matt and his father-in-law had been up the river past the site for about 30 minutes. They were coming back down the river,” Green said. “They saw him going up. Matt said his father-in-law waved. The guy didn’t wave back. He didn’t shoot them the bird, he didn’t holler at them. There was no confrontation, no words spoken.”

Greene County Sheriff Chris Houston was quoted as saying Yearwood was firing warning shots because his fishing lines were out.

“If you fire warning shots, you generally aren’t aiming at them,” Green said. “Matt said he thought there were a total of four shots fired. He thought he heard one glance off the cowling of the motor, and there’s a nick in the cowling. The initial two shots they saw hit the water. When he realized the man was shooting at them, Matt accelerated and the man continued to fire, that’s how Craig got hit in the back of the arm.”

Ironically, a story on page 64 of the June issue of GON magazine mentions the Yearwood property where the shooting took place. Jim Martin of Greensboro was fishing from the bank at the Yearwood property on April 29 when he broke the Oconee lake record with a 40-lb., 0.2-oz. flathead catfish.

Lynn Lucus of Eatonton said he’s fished at the Yearwood camp for about 20 years, and that Pete Yearwood is not the type to get upset with boaters.

“We’ve had lines out across the river, and a boat would come up the river and clip our lines. We just re-tie and start over because we don’t want to cause any trouble on the river. As far as Pete being a violent guy on the river, he is not. I met Pete one day on the river about 20 years ago when our battery went dead, and Pete was nice enough to let us charge our battery at his camp,” Lucas said.

Yearwood is well-known in Greene County, where he built and named the Greshamville Mall. He’s had his river-front property since the early 1940s.

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