Missing man lost among big 2018 local stories

December 24, 2018
William James Smith Jr.

First in a series

FLORENCE, S.C. – Between Sept. 14 and Oct. 14, seven Florence County law enforcement officers were shot in an ambush in a west Florence neighborhood and two hurricanes hit the Pee Dee.

Three Florence County Sheriff’s deputies and four Florence police officers were shot in that Oct. 3 incident outside a home in Vintage Place near Hoffmeyer Road. Florence police Sgt. Terrence Carraway and Florence County Sheriff’s Office investigator Farrah Turner died.

On May 31, a mother and two of her daughters were shot and killed at a home on Cheney Grove Road in Timmonsville. Two other people in the home were injured.

On Aug. 25, a 12-year-old girl was shot and killed in a yard in Timmonsville.

Suspects are in custody in all instances and the cleanup continues in the wake of the storms.

One big story from 2018, though, remains unresolved – though not for lack of trying.

William James Smith disappeared sometime after July 5. He was last seen at 6 p.m. at his home in the 500 Block of North Jefferson Street, according to family members who reported him missing on July 8.

He was last seen wearing a black-and-white shirt and brown pants. Smith has medical problems that cause seizures and memory loss, the police said.

“That’s one of the frustrating parts of the cases we have to work is not having resolution for the families,” said Lt. Mike Brandt of the Florence Police Department.

On July 10, Florence police hit the streets and vacant lots of north Florence en masse.

“We used manpower and resources to search in his neighborhood and around North Florence,” Brandt said.

Searchers went through the underbrush, searched vacant houses and any other place a person could hide but to no avail.

The summer passed without finding Smith. A second wave of publicity in mid-October failed to turn up the missing man.

“That’s very frustrating for his family. That’s very frustrating for us,” Brandt said.

“We had a few leads that came in, and we investigated every lead and exhausted them to no avail.”

Smith was not known to leave his north Florence neighborhood.

Searching for missing people, though, relies to a great extent on them behaving as you think they would.

“When you have (traumatic brain injury) or other mechanisms that impact cognitive ability of individuals, it does throw a wrench into it,” Brandt said.

Brandt said investigators hope that somebody will remember having seen him or that he’s in a hospital somewhere, unidentified.

“We hope to identify him and bring him home to his family,” Brandt said.

Until then, Brandt said all involved will just wait.

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