Law enforcement from two counties conducted a search in Candler County Wednesday for a missing Bulloch County man. While Travis Eric Smith, aka Eric Waters, was not found during the search, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Hutchens said investigators “are following every lead.”
Waters went missing Dec. 20, and while no one has uttered the phrase “no foul play suspected,” Hutchens said it is unusual for someone to disappear and not be heard from in the manner Waters has appeared to do.
Frankie Waters said she knows her son is deceased, even if investigators have not publicly admitted so. She said her 35-year-old son would never leave her wondering about his safety and whereabouts, especially through Christmas. Bulloch County Sheriff’s investigators have spoken to several of Waters’ friends, coworkers and acquaintances, some of whom have launched personal searches for the man. Physical evidence as well as anecdotal and other information collected during those searches were turned over to law enforcement. “We have a lot of leads and are following every one,” Hutchens said.
Candler County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Justin Wells issued a statement about the search Thursday: “On January 22, 2020, a search was conducted in the northern part of Candler County. This was a multi-agency search operation for a person reported missing from Bulloch County. The search was pursuant to an investigative lead in the case. During the search operation, the missing person was not located.”
Initial missing persons reports from the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office list a 38-year-old woman as a suspect in Waters’ disappearance. That female suspect was listed in another Bulloch County Sheriff’s report as the victim of a battery incident the same night Waters disappeared, Dec. 20.
Reports list Tanner Devin Lanier, 32, Stockinghead Road, Metter, as the offender in that battery incident, but state he was never located, questioned or charged.
In early January, Lanier was arrested on aggravated assault charges after reportedly chasing Justin Smith, Waters’ friend and employer, during one of Smith’s searches for clues as to Water’s disappearance.
Smith said he was driving past Lanier’s home when Lanier got into his truck, chased him down and fired three shots at he and his wife before ramming their truck with his own. Candler County Sheriff’s deputies charged Lanier with possession of methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during commission of a crime, as well as two counts of aggravated assault, regarding that imcident.
Lanier was released on a $50,000 bond, but a few days later was arrested again at his home on charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute as well as marijuana possession. He was again released on bond.
When asked about a tip the Statesboro Herald received that Wednesday’s search was on Deal Road in Candler County, Hutchens confirmed the location was one of many investigators have and will continue checking.
It was reported by witnesses that in addition to Bulloch and Candler County sheriff’s officials, other Bulloch County public safety responders as well as Georgia Department of Natural Resources rangers were involved in the search.
“We appreciate each agency and individual that assisted. We value our continued working relationships between these agencies.” Wells said. “We ask that if anyone has information on this case, to please contact the Candler County Sheriff’s Office (912-685-2568) or Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office (012-764-8888).”
Calls may be anonymous.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-478-9414.