By Margie Wuebker
Celina firefighters recovered the body of a missing Virginia man early today from a pond at Eastview Park.
Search efforts began Wednesday afternoon after he disappeared beneath the water during an outing with his girlfriend and her two young sons.
Patrolman Steve Yoder from the Celina Police Department spotted the body of Melvin Dwayne Woodhouse, 21, of Virginia Beach, at 6:04 a.m. floating approximately 10 feet from the north shoreline. The body apparently surfaced and winds from the south carried it northward, according to Celina Police Chief Dave Slusser.
Firefighters transported the body from the scene to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater. An autopsy has been ordered to confirm the cause of death and to determine whether the presence of any extenuating physical problems.
His girlfriend, Angela Boyd, a resident of Celina Garden Apartments, instinctively thought the grim discovery would come today on her 28th birthday. She found a cigarette lighter -- a red Bic -- Thursday along the rocky shoreline a short distance from where her boyfriend's body was spotted.
"I know this is the one I gave Melvin," she said in a voice laced with emotion. "He put it in his pocket before we went swimming."
The Tri-County Dive & Rescue team, comprised of volunteers from Buckeye Lake, came to Celina on Thursday bringing a boat equipped with side scan sonar. The sensitive equipment registered several "hits" that could signal the presence of a body. Divers found nothing but an anchor and dense undergrowth.
Witnesses who saw Woodhouse disappear while swimming toward the center of the pond to retrieve an intertube returned to the scene Thursday morning at the request of police. Authorities believe he may have suffered a debilitating muscle cramp.
"We asked them again to point out where they last saw him," Celina Police Chief Dave Slusser explains. "They all pointed to the same general area roughly 20 to 25 yards apart."
Divers combed the area before widening the search to take in roughly half the pond that was dug during construction of the nearby four-lane highway. It reaches depths of more than 20 feet in places.
Fire Chief Doug Kuhn said water temperature near the surface measured 80 degrees, dropping 10 degrees or so near the bottom. A body -- even one apparently caught up in undergrowth -- tends to surface more quickly in warm water.
The local dive team switched from a raft-type vehicle to a Celina Parks Department boat Thursday with a 12-foot steel pike pole assisting the seasoned swimmers. Tethered to the pole by evenly spaced lines, they progressed at the same speed while maintaining a straight course. The process not only conserved divers' strength but the air in their tanks.
The boat moved slowly across the length of the pond before turning and slightly overlapping the previous path on the way back. Slusser likened the process to cutting grass.
Area businesses responded with food and beverages. One company provided wireless Internet service so Slusser could track the progress of approaching storms. Grand Lake St. Marys State Park officials provided a second boat in case it should be needed, and the local Ministerial Association offered free lodging in the event the victim's relatives came from Virginia. They may arrive later today.
Boyd's family and friends waited patiently by the pond throughout the search or in a nearby shelter filled with picnic tables. Only her mother, Linda Boyer of Montezuma, was on hand as firefighters brought Woodhouse to shore. She then went to tell her daughter who had gone home at 11:30 p.m. for some sleep.
"We tried to explain to Angie's boys that Melvin has gone to heaven to be with Jesus," Boyer said. "They don't understand; they keep asking when he's coming back."
Boyd met the deli worker and part-time disc jockey through a friend on the Internet. They communicated regularly for two months and he came to Celina two weeks ago. He had been looking for a job
"Melvin was a wonderful man, and I wondered how he happened to come into our lives when he did," Boyd said, with tears leaving a wet trail on her cheeks. "I found out Wednesday afternoon."
Her 7-year-old son Casey fell from an inflatable raft approximately 30 minutes before the drowning. The young boy could not swim and slipped beneath the water. Woodhouse rushed to his aid, pulled him from the water and administered a firm slap on the back until the boy coughed up water. Later, while playing in the water with her 4-year-old son Phillip, Woodhouse made sure an adult swimmer watched the boy as he swam out to retrieve the intertube.
"I believe he was an angel sent by God to watch over me and my boys," she said smiling through tears. "He did what he was assigned to do, and God called him home."