Originally created 01/10/01

Augustan drowns off Texas



Rescue workers combing the waters near Freeport, Texas, stopped their around-the-clock search for an Augusta man Tuesday afternoon - but not with the news they wanted to hear.

At 12:16 p.m., divers from the Galveston County Sheriff's Department found the body of Robert Peebles, a 21-year-old Coast Guard petty officer who had been stationed in Freeport.

He was reported missing Monday after a boating accident threw him and another off-duty Coast Guard petty officer, 24-year-old Brian Wilson, overboard into the Intracoastal Waterway that leads to the Gulf of Mexico.

A passing tugboat picked up Petty Officer Wilson, who told authorities about his missing friend, said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Rob Wyman.

For the next 19 hours, the Coast Guard and local law enforcement used search vessels, dive teams and aircraft equipped with infrared gear to search the remote waterway with the hope Petty Officer Peebles might still be alive.

When the search abruptly ended, his commanding officer in Freeport said, it was like losing a member of the family.

"He was just an outstanding example of a young man with a very shiny future ahead of him," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Barry White, officer in charge of the Freeport station.

Petty Officer Peebles, a machinery technician third class, joined the Coast Guard in 1998. He was assigned to the Freeport station, which is about 60 miles south of Houston, a year and a half ago, Chief Petty Officer White said.

His family, which resides in Augusta, was in Texas on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

"His plans were - after doing his four years in the Coast Guard - he was going to go back to Georgia and become a game warden," Chief Petty Officer White said.

Petty Officer Peebles was interested in hunting and fishing, Chief Petty Officer White said, and was on his way to his usual duck-hunting area when the boat he was on Monday afternoon went out of control.

"There was no doubt in my mind that he would have achieved his goals," Chief Petty Officer White said.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.