LUBEC – Periwinkle harvester Dennis Knox believes he was the last man to see his friend Kristopher Fergerson alive.
Fergerson, 27, and Knox, 47, had been harvesting periwinkles, a small edible species of gilled snail known locally as wrinkles, Tuesday night when Fergerson disappeared.
Knox speculated Friday that his friend ended up stranded on a sandbar, the rising tide choking off access to shore. He said he still hears his friend’s cry for help. “I wake up to hear screaming,” he said during an interview in Calais.
Maine State Police and officers from the Department of Marine Patrol continued to investigate Fergerson’s disappearance on Friday.
“They are still doing interviews and tracking down leads,” Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith said. He said officers had returned to West Quoddy Head State Park, about a mile from where Fergerson last was seen, to take some pictures and do some measurements. He did not elaborate. The Maine State Police did not return a telephone call Friday.
Knox said he was cooperating with police, but he also wanted to talk about what happened.
He said the two men had gone to a popular harvesting spot in the area of the Channel Light, known locally as the Sparkplug. The Channel Light runs parallel with South Lubec Road.
He said Fergerson was not as experienced a wrinkler as he was. “We’d been wrinkling because he had lost his job doing carpentry work,” Knox said.
Knox said they’d known each other about a year. Fergerson had invited Knox and his pregnant girlfriend, Shannon Hill, to move in with him. “We became close friends real quick. He is like a brother,” Knox said.
It was dark and the tide was out when they arrived at Lower Water Street on Tuesday night.
Harvesting wrinkles in the dark is not unusual, because most fishermen follow the tides. The two were dressed for cold weather and wore headlamps. They had been out on the flats awhile, long enough to get a few sacks of wrinkles.
They kept their eye on the tide. “We both decided to get going,” he said as the tide began to close in around them.
Knox shouldered the bag of wrinkles he had picked and carried it to his car. Fergerson did not follow. “I went back down to the beach to see if he was coming up and I didn’t see no light,” he said. “I yelled a couple of times and I didn’t hear nothing.”
He speculated that his friend might have stopped to pick more wrinkles. “And maybe he turned around and seen a couple of more spots and he got spun around,” Knox said.
Knox said he wasn’t concerned at the time because he figured that Fergerson would use the lights from the nearby international bridge and the sewer plant to find his way to the shore.
Apparently that didn’t happen.
Knox went back to his car and got his flashlight and started to walk up the beach toward where he thought Fergerson might be. “I heard him yelling, but with the wind I really couldn’t make out exactly what he was saying,” he said. Plus the tide was rising fast.
Knox said he went to the nearby U.S. Customs House at the foot of the Roosevelt-Campobello International Bridge to get help. “I told them that Kris Fergerson was trapped on the sandbar,” he said.
They called the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Lubec man ran back to the beach “I could still hear him out there yelling, still not able to make out exactly what he was saying,” Knox said.
“I think that he was so cold and hypothermia set in and mentally he lost it,” Knox added. “He didn’t think anybody was coming for him.”
The U.S. Coast Guard arrived and shot off flares near the Sparkplug. “At that point I didn’t hear nothing,” Knox said. “Other people joined the search for Kris … up and down the beach they went.”
Knox also searched.
Knox returned to the beach the next day and found footprints leading toward South Lubec Road, right in the middle of the rising tide. “Almost like he was going toward our trailer,” said Hill, Knox’s girlfriend. The three lived together in Fergerson’s rented trailer.
Knox found nothing else.
Both feel a deep sense of loss over Fergerson’s disappearance.
“I feel very sorry for his family and all of his loved ones,” Knox said. Given the tides and the heavy currents, Knox said he did not know where his friend might be. “He may be out there in the channel near the Sparkplug,” he said.
Hill said she felt a great sense of sorrow not only over Fergerson’s disappearance, but also for Knox. “Dennis being down on the beach and hearing his friend yelling and not being able to get too him is a horrible, horrible thing,” she said quietly.