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Reports link battery incident to missing person case
Investigators say no new leads in disappearance
Travis Eric Smith
Travis Eric Smith

Reports have surfaced linking the case of a missing Portal man to a battery incident that happened the same night Travis Eric Smith, aka Eric Waters, disappeared.

A woman listed as a suspect in the disappearance of Waters is also listed as a victim in a reported battery. A “person of interest” in her attack is the same man who was arrested for aggravated assault against a friend of Waters during a search for him.

Tanner Devin Lanier, 32, of Stockinghead Road in Metter, was charged with aggravated assault, possession of methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during commission of a crime in early January after Justin Smith, the employer and a friend of Waters, called 911 as he and his wife were being chased in Candler County by Lanier, according to reports. Smith said Lanier fired shots at him, chased him in his truck and rammed his vehicle.

Lanier was arrested for the incident and released on a $50,000 bond assigned by the Candler County Magistrate Court. A week later, Candler County sheriff’s deputies arrested Lanier again, this time on charges of possession of marijuana and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, according to Candler County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Justin Wells. Lanier was again released on bond.


Link triangle

Lanier is listed in Bulloch County sheriff’s reports as the offender in the battery case, and the female victim in the battery is listed as a suspect in Waters’ disappearance, according to reports.

Waters’ mother filed a missing person report Dec. 20. The report listed two females as witnesses as well as several others listed by name but not marked as suspects. Reports do not indicate the others’ involvement, but Lanier’s name is one of the names listed. The 38-year-old Portal woman listed as a victim of battery is also listed as a suspect in Waters’ missing person case.

Bulloch County sheriff’s Deputy Rhett Kelley responded Dec. 21 to East Georgia Regional Medical Center, where he met with the female battery victim. Hospital staff are mandated to report suspected battery and other assaults.

Although it was around 4 p.m. Dec. 21 when Kelley spoke with the victim, the battery had occurred the night before on Dec. 20, reports stated.

The victim had allegedly been dropped off at a Bobby Donaldson Avenue home in Statesboro around 5 a.m. Dec. 21. A friend of the victim, one of the witnesses listed in Waters’ disappearance case, called the victim’s mother to come get her. Reports state the victim’s mother later took the woman to the hospital.

Kelley noted in reports that the victim suffered a laceration to the eye, facial swelling hematomas and other bleeding injuries. During interviews with the victim and her mother, a “person of interest” was identified as Lanier, who was recorded in the report as the offender. The victim at first told deputies she had a vehicle breakdown and that Lanier was the only one she was with, but he “wouldn’t have done that to her.” She then stopped responding to deputies.

In a later interview, the victim claimed she did not remember what happened and did not want an investigation. Lanier, according to reports, was never located or questioned in the battery incident, despite being listed as an offender.

The battery incident report stated drugs were suspected to be involved, but the type of drug was unknown.


Investigation continues

Bulloch County sheriff’s Capt. Todd Hutchens said Monday that there is a nothing new to report in the Eric Waters missing person case. Investigator William Sims and other sheriff’s investigators are still actively working the case. They have been given information by others linked to the case, including Sarah Shipman, a friend of Waters’ family who is one of several who have launched individual searches for clues to Waters’ whereabouts.

In spite of investigators saying there is not yet proof of foul play, Frankie Waters, Eric Waters’ mother, said she knows something bad happened.

“He would not have gone anywhere without telling me he is OK, especially over Christmas,” she said. “I know my young’un is dead.”

Shipman said she found items of interest in two locations and has turned everything over to Bulloch County sheriff’s investigators.

Anyone with information on these cases is asked to contact the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at (912) 764-8888. Calls and tips may be made anonymously.


Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.


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