Deputies: Missing boater's dog "never left his side"

NEWBERRY COUNTY, SC (WIS) - A Newberry County boater who had been missing for four days was found dead in his boat Wednesday evening and deputies say his dog never left his side.

Russell L. Sandlin, 61, of Prosperity was found around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Saluda County, according to Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster. Foster said the Prosperity Rescue Squad found Sandlin near his boat, which had run aground near a place called Spring Creek.

Sandlin had been last seen Sunday afternoon by his neighbors getting into his boat on Lake Murray with his Weimaraner, Sadie. Wildlife officials said Sandlin's boat ran aground with enough force to throw him partially out of the boat into some branches.

Newberry County Sheriff's Lientenant Robert Dennis said when rescue crews arrived, they saw Sadie inside the boat still trying to remove branches from Sandlin's body and licking him. The dog's efforts to save her master's life, however, went unrewarded because Sandlin was already dead. "You can see by her looking around for him, it's very stressful on her," said Warren Dallman of Newberry County Animal Control. "Nobody will ever be the owner that she had, and she really misses him."

Saluda County Coroner Keith Turner said an autopsy revealed that Russell Sandlin died from blunt force trauma to the head.  Turner said exactly what caused the accident is sttill unclear. "It would have been real easy to jump out of the boat and go into the woods, but [the dog] stayed right there until somebody found them," said Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster.

The incident is being considered an accident, but the Department of Natural Resources is continuing to investigate. Authorities say that based on their investigation, there does not appear to be any foul play involved.

Sadie was unharmed and was expected to be picked up by family members Thursday. "Her breed is very protective, similar to German Shepherds, so when I finally got to meet her I was very proud," commented Dallman. "Felt like I was meeting a champion."

A champion whose loyalty and love meant withstanding wind, rain and four days without food. "It's truly a man's best friend," added Dallman. "This story tells that better than anything else I know right now."

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