Search continues for Kentucky man lost in the Ohio River


The search continues for a 20-year old Kentucky man who was lost in the Ohio River on Monday after the boat he was duck hunting in capsized and sank.

The Indiana Conservation Officers said that Justin Hearn, 20, of Worthville, Kentucky, was hunting with two friends, Joseph McDermott, 21, and Jeremy Pence, 20, also of Worthville, on Monday morning about 2 1/2 miles upstream from Florence near the Bryant’s Creek boatramp.

Officers said that at approximately 10:45 a.m. their 16-foot john boat took on water from a wave and sank. Joseph McDermott and Jeremy Pence were able to grab personal floatation devices and swim to shore.

The two were able to make it to a private residence for assistance and to call for help. Justin Hearn, who was not wearing a personal floatation device, did not make it to shore with his friends. Joseph McDermott and Jeremy Pence were transported to Carroll County Hospital, where they were treated for hypothermia and were later released.

Under the direction of Indiana Conservation Office Chris Powell, a command center was sat up at the Bryant’s Creek boatramp, with Conservation officers from Indiana and Kentucky; along with Switzerland County EMS; the Switzerland County Sheriff’s Department; the Patriot Volunteer Fire Department; the Posey Township Volunteer Fire Department; and the East Enterprise Volunteer Fire Department.

Also assisting at the scene were members of the Dearborn County Water Rescue unit; members of the Worthville, Kentucky Volunteer Fire Department; and a helicopter from the Hamilton County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Department.

Officers used boats to search for Justin Hearn as well as the boat; and they also searched the shoreline in the event that he had made it to shore but could not get to help.

“The two victims who got to shore were able to find someone home at a residence on Riverside Drive,” Chris Powell said. “They were fortunate to find someone home because many of these houses are weekend and summer residences. They were very lucky.”

Chris Powell said that three boats – two Indiana Conservation Officer boats and the boat from Dearborn County Rescue – were put in the water to begin the search as soon as they arrived at the scene.

“They are checking the banks and doing a surface search right now,” Officer Powell said. “We’re checking every possible location in and out of the water.”

Although officers were not giving the names of the victims initially, a group of family members came to the scene to wait for information about Justin Hearn.

“He just graduated high school last year, and he just joined the Marines last week,” Roy Breeden said, a member of the Worthville Volunteer Fire Department and a close family friend. “The boat capsized and there was a bag full of decoys for buoyancy. They all grabbed a hold of that. In the process of trying to make it to the bank, the decoy bag came loose, and the three of them were separated. Two of them stayed together.”

Roy Breeden said that the two men who made it to the bank said that they backstroked to shore, but never saw Justin Hearn again after they were separated.

“Justin is like a son to me,” Roy Breeden said. “I’m very close to the family. We are just hoping he got to shore and we’re going to find him.”

As Monday wore on, more individuals came to the scene to try and lend assistance. With bitter temperatures along the river and a slight snow falling, volunteers showed up with sandwiches and coffee for searchers and for the family. Switzerland County EMS watched after everyone for exposure, and used their ambulances as a place for searchers to get out of the cold and get warm.

Commercial diver Eric Thien was also on the scene; and during the afternoon hours family friends brought private boats to the area to help with the search.

“What we’re trying to do is put as many eyeballs on the river as possible,” Bill Beville from the Indiana Conservation Officers said on Monday. “We’ve got boats out and we’re checking the shoreline in an all out search. Possibly he’s on top of the water or he’s holding on to something, so that’s what we’re looking at. We’re looking at all possibilities.”

As Monday afternoon passed, the hopes of searchers and family members that Justin Hearn would be found alive dimmed a bit, but officials were still calling the operation a “rescue mission” throughout the day. The search was stopped at nightfall on Monday; and on Tuesday the command center was shifted to the Warsaw, Kentucky Volunteer Fire Department firehouse.

The search continued throughout the day on Tuesday, but officials had moved to “recovery mode” with hopes of locating Justin Hearn somewhere in the river. The Tuesday search did not bring success, and the recovery operation continued yesterday (Wednesday).

Friends of Justin Hearn have set up a Facebook group, “Prayers for Justin Hearn”, which as of Wednesday morning had more than 1,100 members.