GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – A pickup truck belonging to a man reported missing from Palatka in 2015 was recently found abandoned in a heavily wooded and secluded area of Green Cove Springs, the Clay County Sheriff's Office said.
Deputies in Clay County, along with the Palatka Police Department, are now investigating the truck, which they said belonged to Wallace “Buster” Gerrald, who was 85 at the time of his disappearance.
According to the Palatka Police Department, Gerrald (pictured left) was reported missing in October 2015. He traveled from Horry County, South Carolina, to Palatka to obtain some legal documents after the passing of a relative, deputies said. Police said he should have returned to South Carolina later in the day but was never located.
"Mr. Buster Gerrald was an important part of our community and he was loved by everyone. We need closure," James Johnson, Gerrald's friend, told News4Jax by phone on Friday. "Mr. Buster was a sweet guy ... He had one of those smiles. He just lit up the place when smiled, but he was a kind person. He kept to himself."
Gerrald was last seen driving a white-colored 2013 Ford F-150 truck bearing South Carolina tag DEQ-188, police said.
Clay County spokesman Deputy Chris Padgett said the F-150 was found Saturday by the landowners deep in the woods at the dead end of Rosemary Hill Road, west of Peter's Creek. He said the owners do not live at the property and rarely check that deep into the woods.
The truck did not have any visible body damage and appeared to have possibly been driven onto the property before becoming stuck and being abandoned. Investigators have not concluded who drove the truck into the wooded area, but Padgett said it was likely left there shortly after Gerrald's disappearance.
He said there were items belonging to Gerrald inside the truck.
"We're taking this very seriously," he said, adding that Gerrald's remaining family in South Carolina has been contacted about the update in the case.
Padgett said deputies have been searching nonstop in the area since the discovery, and one Sheriff's Office employee was bitten by a pygmy rattlesnake during the search. That deputy was checked out at the hospital but was released after doctors determined the snake did not inject him with any venom. He returned to the search the next day.
Padgett said they called in help Friday from neighboring agencies, including the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, and Clay County Fire Rescue. More than 100 law enforcement members were searching the wooded area Friday, he said.
Investigators determined their search will be extended into Monday, Padgett said Friday afternoon.
Padgett admitted that it was a long time ago, but anyone who sees Gerrald's photo and remembers anything from when he went missing is asked to call 904-264-6512 or submit a tip on the See Something, Say Something page of the Sheriff's Office website.
After Gerrald disappeared, community members created a Facebook page called Help Find Wallace "Buster" Gerrald. On the page, they share memories of him in hopes that someone will see their posts and share information about his whereabouts.