Man who fell overboard on shrimping boat identified

Joseph Reed, 40 and a new deckhand, wasn't wearing a life vest.

By DEMORRIS A. LEE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 12, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - As Joseph Reed prepared to work on a shrimp boat last week, he stopped by the small house on N. Highland Avenue and gathered his belongings.

It was the last contact Thomas "Pegleg" Brinkley would have with Reed, who lived with Brinkley's family on and off for several years.

Brinkley said Reed told him he was going on a boat in a few days.

"That's the last time I saw him," Brinkley said.

Reed, 40, of Tarpon Springs, fell off the back of Charlee Girl, a 69-foot commercial shrimping vessel. The U.S. Coast Guard received a distress call at 4:17 p.m. Monday. They searched for the missing man with a 41-foot rescue boat from the Sand Key station and a HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter from the Clearwater Air Station.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Reed, who was not wearing a life vest, had not been found.

Charlee Girl was about 35 miles west of Tarpon Springs at the time of the accident, according to a Coast Guard news release. A crew member jumped in the water and attempted to bring Reed back aboard but was unsuccessful, authorities said.

Reed was the deckhand on the vessel. A captain and his companion were also on the ship, which had left port just a few days earlier. Most shrimping trips last between two to three weeks.

Brinkley, who earned the nickname "Pegleg" because he is missing his left foot, said Reed had worked around Tarpon Springs sponge docks but mainly loaded and unloaded vessels. He said the recent trip as a deckhand was the first time he had known Reed to do such work.

"He got a job on a shrimp boat as a green hand," Brinkley said between draws of his cigarette. "Obviously, that was a dumb idea."

According to Pinellas County Sheriff's Office jail records, Reed had been arrested three times since December 2006. Charges included loitering, prowling, simple battery and possession of marijuana.

Jody McBride has worked at the Tarpon Docks shrimping and sponging since the 1970s. For the past six years he's worked at Northside Seafood Market, next to where Charlee Girl docks.

McBride, 51, said every couple of years someone dies from falling off the back of a boat. Often, the deckhands drink heavily and take drugs while they are on shore. When they go to sea for three weeks at a time, they experience withdrawal, which causes them to become unstable, McBride said.

The high price of fuel is forcing many commercial shrimpers to try to cut corners and it's making it hard to find good deckhands said Terry Pounds, whose been in the shrimping business for 27 years.

Pounds said deckhands are lucky to make $800 to $1,000 a month these days. In the past, they could make $1,500 to $2,000 in 10 days.

"In the past, there would be 15 to 20 deckhands waiting for work," Pounds said. "Now, you've got to search two weeks to find anybody."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.