After Lake Jackson Boating Accident, Jody Williams Ready To Fish Again

Jody Williams lost his arm in a tragic boating accident on Lake Jackson, but he gained perspective on what's important.

GON Staff | June 1, 2005

Jody Williams, a 34-year-old Pike County man, and his dad, Ed Darden, were fishing out of a Bomber boat with a 150 h.p. Yamaha outboard on Lake Jackson on March 19, 2004. Jody’s brother was down the lake in a jonboat. The two had been talking by cell phone, giving each other accounts of a slow day of fishing. Jody and his dad decided to run to the dam to hook up with Jody’s brother. On the run to the dam, Jody was kicked back in the passenger seat, relaxing when another boat passed. Jody said he waved at the other boaters as his dad negotiated the wake. The boat was doing fine until seconds later when Jody was suddenly ejected.

Jody guessed the boat might have hit something — possibly a submerged log — in the water. According to the DNR accident report, while the motor was being trimmed, Ed lost control, the boat did a 360-degree turn, and sent Jody into the water.

“When I went under, I could hear the boat getting closer and closer to me, and I guess it hit me,” Jody said. “Really when I went under, I had this vision that the boat was flipping and all our rods and tackle boxes were sinking.”

The blow left Jody with a cracked pelvis, a fractured sacrum, a gash on his left knee, and a cut on his back that went all the way to the spine. The worst part, however, was the fact that Jody’s left arm was severed about halfway between his elbow and his wrist.

When Jody tried to swim back to the surface, he realized his clothes were so twisted in the prop on the outboard motor that he couldn’t free himself.

“I tore my shirt so I could swim up and when I got above water, I saw part of my arm was gone,” Jody recalled.

Jody was more worried about his father, who had been slammed to the floor of the boat upon the impact. Jody’s dad’s arm got caught up in the console of the boat, and he was stuck momentarily. He sustained shoulder and hip injuries, but none were as severe as Jody’s.

Tim Westmoreland and several other people who were fishing nearby saw the incident and raced to help Jody and his dad. Jody said he never panicked, mostly remembering a  long helicopter flight to Grady Hospital in Atlanta.

“By the time they got me to the boat ramp, the EMTs were there and they flew me to the hospital,” Jody said. “I’m just thankful Tim and those other folks were there to help.”

Jody read the story (GON, April 2005) of tournament fisherman Tony King, who was killed in an accident on Lake Sinclair, with particular interest. See, Jody knows how quickly things can go wrong on the water, and he wants other people to understand it as well.

“Boat wrecks are becoming all too common,” Jody said.

According to the Department of Natural Resources there have been an average of 156 boat accidents every year since 2000. Over the five-year period, 2004 actually had the lowest number of boat accidents, with 123, but the highest number of fatalities with 25. The most interesting fact is that most boat accidents involve only one vessel. And according to Capt. James Bell, director of boating safety for DNR, most major accidents occur when lakes are less crowded.

“I can speak from my experience working on Lake Lanier, that most major accidents happen when there are fewer boats on the water,” Capt. Bell said. “When there are fewer boats, people aren’t as careful.”

Jody, who coaches recreational league baseball and football, didn’t sit on the couch after his accident. A few days after returning from the hospital, Jody got his wife to drive him to the baseball field to see the kids he coached. He still enjoys coaching and said he and the youngsters kid each other back and forth all the time.

Jody said the accident gave him a new perspective on life because of the impact it has had on his ability to do things. He admitted it took some time to learn how to do many things and sometimes, even tying his daughter’s shoes can be too challenging. But he’s not letting that get him down.

“I appreciate things a lot more now because I could very easily have been gone,” Jody said. “I won’t take anything for granted anymore.”

“The only thing I lost because of this was a cell phone, my keys and part of my arm. It could have been a lot worse,” Jody said.

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