TARPON SPRINGS — Search crews on Wednesday pulled the bodies of Willie Hightower and Willie Ragins from Lake Tarpon, where four days earlier the pair took off for a day trip in an aluminum fishing boat.
Investigators haven't said what killed the men, but said the deaths appear accidental. The boat hadn't been found Wednesday.
Ragins' family believes he died a hero, helping his friend, his niece Eddresa Dasher said.
"No one said," Dasher said, "but we just believe in our hearts that that's what happened."
Hightower's wife, Mildred, said she still has questions about her husband's death and hopes the recovery of the fishing boat will bring answers. She is thankful, at least, for the return of his body.
Ragins, 43, and Hightower, 64, both of Plant City, were reported missing early Sunday after their families grew concerned. The pair left Saturday afternoon for the 5-mile-long lake, a place they both fished regularly.
Search teams from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office began scouring the lake about noon Sunday and found a tackle box, a can of gasoline and two coolers. They were joined by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office boats equipped with sonar and by volunteers.
After nearly four days, both men's bodies were recovered in the middle of the lake about 3:40 p.m. Wednesday.
"We have closure," Ragins' niece, Dasher, said. "It's not the closure we necessarily wanted, but we can sleep at night knowing that he can get a proper burial."
Claire Wiseman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.