After night in Clay County swamp, 2 men emerge

Published On: Mar 13 2012 08:39:11 AM EDT   Updated On: Mar 13 2012 07:55:00 PM EDT

After authorities spend the night searching for two men who went into a wilderness reserve south of Green Cove Springs and didn't return, the Clay County Sheriff's Office is considering filing charges against at least one of them.

David Claypool, 22, and Kyle Bennett, 21, left about 4 p.m. Monday saying they were going to cut a trail from the backyard of a home on Deer Path Road to a creek about 1½ mile into the woods of the Bayard Conservation Area. When they had not returned late Monday, Claypool's mother called the Sheriff's Office.

"Went for a hike," Claypool said while laughing Tuesday after they were found OK. "Went for a hike and didn't come back."

The two went off into the woods Monday with a machete and a .22 rifle. Claypool said they realized they were in trouble about 30 minutes after dark.

The Sheriff's Office said Claypool and Bennett headed north into the woods and somehow got turned around and began going south. The two friends were lost for 18 hours before they finally staggered to a house on County Road 209.

Claypool said they didn't sleep at all, and they built a fire for warmth because they were dressed only in T-shirts and shorts.

"No, we pretty much had to do watches," he said. "It's pretty cold out there, mosquitoes and stuff, and kind of just had to go back and forth."

Deputies and K-9 tracking teams from Union Correctional Institute attempted to track the men, but lost the scent in the swamp. Deputies, joined by some Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers and the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office's helicopter assisted in a search when the men emerged at the home miles away.

To add insult to injury, once the men were found, they were suddenly under investigation.

Saying the men were cut up and hungry, Clay County deputies also said one of the men had a rifle -- a criminal offense for someone convicted of a felony. Both men are convicted felons.

"Obviously, there are two individuals and one gun, and there is some ambiguity in their statements as to who was the actual possessor of the firearm," said Col. Craig Aldrich, chief of staff of the Clay County Sheriff's Office.

Channel 4 looked up the criminal records of the two men.

Bennett pleaded guilty in 2010 to grand theft, burglary and dealing in stolen property and was released from prison in January. He remains on probation.

Claypool pleaded guilty to burglary in 2008 and served some jail time. His probation ended in January 2011.

Claypool admitted they both carried his rifle in the woods.

"I'm happy they're OK," said Steve Bennett, Kyle Bennett's brother. "But at the same time, convicted felons are people, too."

Steve Bennett said talk of filing charges was ridiculous.

"My brother could have died in those woods last night, you know what I mean? And that hurts," he said.