Four found dead in vehicle
By By SHERRY DIGMON
Advance Staff Writer
Four people died near Barnett Crossroads Saturday morning, apparently the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.
When the ride through the gravel lakes started shortly after midnight Friday night, there were four men, a little boy and a little girl in the 1982 Bronco. But when the truck got stuck in an isolated area northwest of Grissett Bridge, two of the men decided to walk for help, leaving two men and the two children in the truck.
The night was cool. The engine was running. The tailpipe was buried in the sand and mud.
When officers arrived on the scene about six hours later, the two men and the two children left behind in the Bronco were dead.
Mary Katlyn "Katie" Starrett, 4, and her brother Aaron Jake "A.J." Smith, 7, James Edward "Bo" Spettel, 65, George Eckerd Capers, 19, were found dead at the scene about 7 a.m., Saturday morning.
Escambia County Sheriff Tim Hawsey said a tragedy involving children is always hard to deal with. This scene on Grissett Bridge Road was no different.
The sheriff's department and Alabama Bureau of Investigation are conducting a full investigation into the events that spanned about six hours and resulted in four deaths.
According to the preliminary investigation, the six were riding the sand dunes in the four-wheel drive Bronco in the Barnett Crossroads community when the truck got stuck in the sand and mud. They tried to get the truck out, but were not able to. Tony Starrett, 27, who is Katie's father and A.J.'s stepfather, and Quintus Trawick, 24, decided to walk out and get help. At that point, the engine was still running.
Starrett told investigators it took them about an hour to walk to Charles Drive where Starrett was staying in the Barnetts Crossroads area. There was no telephone in the house, so they got on a motorcycle and drove back to the sand dunes to check on the other four.
Hawsey said that Starrett stated he and Trawick spoke to Spettel and Capers and they appeared to be all right. The two children were asleep in the truck, and the engine was still running. Starrett and Trawick rode to a service station on I-65 and called a wrecker.
The wrecker driver was en route to them when he was flagged down on the interstate by a stranded motorist. When he met Starrett and Trawick at the service station, he had a van in tow and had to drop it off before he could help them with the Bronco. He agreed to meet them later at Starrett's house and follow them to the scene.
Starrett and Trawick went back to the house on Charles Drive and waited. They later told investigators the wrecker never showed up, so shortly after daylight, they rode back to the gravel lakes to check on the others. It was at this point they found the four of them dead. The engine was still running.
A.J. Smith was lying on the floor board. Katie Starrett was in the back of the Bronco. Capers was lying in the back seat. Spettel was in the front passenger seat.
Starrett and Trawick put the children on the hood of the Bronco and attempted CPR. Unable to revive them, Starrett went for help.
He drove to Bud Herndon's store just north of the Flomaton exit and asked Herndon to call 911. Starrett then went across the street to Alabama State Trooper John Fields' house and asked for help.
When Trooper Fields arrived at the scene, he found the two children on the hood and the two men inside.
The wrecker driver later told investigators that he had returned and tried to find the house on Charles Drive but was unable to find it by the directions he was given. Since Starrett didn't have a phone, the driver couldn't call.
The right rear Bronco tire was almost completely submerged in mud, and the tailpipe was under water. Both axles were on the ground, and the two front tires were also deep in sand. Although the truck was engaged in four-wheel drive, the tires were not off-road tires. The passenger side window was rolled down a few inches.
The truck was impounded and delivered to the forensic lab in Mobile. Several small holes were discovered in the exhaust system, which could have contributed to the fumes getting into the interior of the truck.
The case is under routine investigation.
Also responding to the call were the Barnett Crossroads Fire Department and the Flomaton Fire Department. The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences also responded to the scene with a forensic pathologist and crime scene analyst.