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Murder weapon search sparks flooding

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
STaff Writer

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The ongoing search for an alleged murder weapon in a highly-publicized homicide case inadvertently jeopardized $10 million in sweet potatoes over the weekend.

Wanting to search the Tarboro River for the blade believed to have been used by Lynn Keel to stab to death his wife Diana Keel, Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone asked Rocky Mount officials to lower the gates of the Tar River Reservoir dam.

The gates were partially lowered on Saturday evening, said Tameka Kenan-Norman, the city's chief communications officer.

"The purpose was to create a period of reduced downstream river flow on Monday, March 25, 2019, to improve effectiveness of a police investigation," Kenan-Norman said.

In other words, the plan was to lower the gates, let a lot of water out of the reservoir, close the gates, and while the reservoir filled back up, the river would be shallow, making it safer for divers and hopefully aid in the search.

The U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies were searching the Tar River about five miles west of Tarboro over the past few days, Stone said.

Lynn Keel fled the area, was picked up in Arizona and returned to Nash County last week. Diana Keel's body was found March 12 along an isolated road in Edgecombe County.

Authorities seized guns and bladed weapons from the Keel residence. Lynn Keel is scheduled to appear in court today.

Kenan-Norman said an email notification was sent to the fire department, police department, Edgecombe and Nash County Emergency Services, as well as various local residents who have asked to be on the list.

Since 1973, Joel Boseman has been farming sweet potatoes on his property that runs along N.C. 97 east of Rocky Mount.

"I didn't get an email and if they sent it at 5:15 Saturday afternoon like they said it wouldn't have given me enough time anyway," Boseman said. "They can't dump this much water and not expect something to happen."

The rising water flooded an $18,000 irrigation pump that takes water from the river and sends it to Boseman's 3,000 acres of sweet potato fields.

Boseman said Monday he's hauling out the pump and taking it to get fixed, which will likely include disassembling the entire engine and draining water from the oil pan. The closest shop for such a job is in Murfreesboro, more than an hour away.

So far this year, Boseman has spent $450,000 on sweet potato seeds. The crop is expected to yield $3,500 per acre. Since Boseman has 3,000 acres — that's a total of $10.5 million.

Boseman said the dam has been a source of flooding for him and neighbors for years. He said he finally came to an understanding with Jonathan Boone, the city's former public works director.

"We made an agreement last summer and started off this year good," Boseman said Sunday. "Then damn, I wake up this morning and my pump is under water."

Boseman said he called Councilman Richard Joyner on Sunday morning and he showed up in his church clothes.

"Richard changed his clothes between his car and mine and went down to the river with me," Boseman said. "You couldn't even see the top of the pump. The water rose something like eight feet over night."

The river crested at 16.9 feet at 3:30 a.m. Sunday at the Atlantic Avenue station, which is approximately six miles upstream from the Wastewater Treatment Plant, according to city officials.

"This is about 5.4 feet higher than the general forecast of the river," Kenan-Norman said. "It should be noted that minor flood stage for the river is 21 feet, moderate flood is 23 feet and major flood is 25 feet."

Boseman said it's supposed to rain for the next couple of days — but after that, if the pump isn't running the entire crop could be lost.

Boseman met with Joyner and other city officials Monday afternoon. He said he feels much better about the situation.

"When a big storm is coming they're going to lower the gates a little," Boseman said. "That way there won't be so much water at one time."

Boseman wasn't sure about what would be done concerning his pump. For now, he's paying for the costly repairs, but he's hopeful the city will reimburse him a portion of the bill.

The real scare for Boseman was that a friend and his two children went camping on the river bank Saturday night. Boseman couldn't reach his friend by phone Sunday morning and feared they had all drowned.

"They left because it was so cold — but if they were sleeping out there, they could have died," Boseman said, adding that people who live along the river need better warning so they have time to move their boats and such.

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