A man out to test-drive a boat at Percy Quin State Park with friends Saturday morning wound up serving as a mediator in a dramatic mid-lake arrest.
Joel Spiers was test-driving a boat owned by George Jones along with Spiers’ fishing buddy, Bobby McKlemurry, all of Amite County. Spiers was considering buying the Dynatrak bass rig with 85-hp Yamaha.
“We saw this guy swimming right out in the middle of the lake,” Jones said, noting the swimmer was not wearing a life vest.
However, the man did not seem to be in distress, so the boaters didn’t stop.
As they returned toward shore, they saw law enforcement officers gathering. When they landed, “an officer asked for a ride,” Jones said.
“He said, ‘We’ve got a guy out in the water, tried to steal a jet ski.’ Joel was driving the boat, so he took the officers out.”
Spiers took Pike County sheriff’s deputy Chris Hass and Sgt. John Bestoca out to the swimmer, who had climbed onto a buoy.
Spiers said the swimmer — who turned out to be Dylan Berlin, 27, 4151 Cowart Price Road, Tylertown — was wearing boxer shorts.
“He wanted his wife,” Spiers said. “He said he wanted to renew his vows. He wasn’t going anywhere until his wife got there.”
When officers tried to get Berlin to step into the boat, “he said he would kill himself before he let them get to him,” Spiers said.
“I told him he can commit suicide and his body can go down to the bottom but his soul will live on and will go to either heaven or hell,” Spiers said.
“I started telling him about the things that happened in my life.”
Spiers shared some of his own personal tragedies — the loss of a brother in a car wreck and a daughter in a plane crash — as well as his own past brushes with the law.
He cautioned Berlin against trying to resist the officers, saying an assault charge wasn’t worth it, and told him there was hope no matter how bleak his situation looked now.
“I told him I just celebrated my 25th anniversary,” Spiers said.
After about half an hour, Berlin got into the boat without resistance. He was taken to the Pike County Jail, where he was charged with grand larceny and was being held for questioning in other cases, said chief deputy Brad Bellipanni.
Bellipanni said Berlin had tried to steal a jet ski Saturday morning at the park, but the owner saw him and pulled the boat in with a rope. Berlin then stripped off his clothes and swam out into the lake.
When Spiers and the officers went to get him, Jones and McKlemurry watched everything from the shore along with a small crowd of park visitors and other lawmen.
When the boat returned, “The officer told me he (Spiers) was like a real negotiator,” Jones said.
“I guess I was just trying to help any way I could,” Spiers said. “I’m glad everyone is OK and it turned out with no one getting injured or killed. And give God all the praise and glory for allowing me to help in some small way.”
Sheriff’s detective Max Adams called Spiers a “good Samaritan” for being willing to help.
“Mr. Joel was extremely helpful in talking the subject and coming to a peaceful ending,” Adams said.
He noted that Greg Russel of Walthall County also let wildlife conservation officers use his boat to go out as backup.
“It was amazing,” Adams said, “It was a good team effort and thankfully it came to a safe conclusion. We’re very grateful.”
As for the boat? Spiers wound up buying it.
“After all that, I felt like it was meant to be,” he said.