By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE (Reuters) - A Tennessee lawman who got lost while squirrel hunting survived his five-day ordeal on worms and muddy water as colleagues combed the dense woods of a 13,000-acre state park looking for him.
"I would like to start by thanking the good Lord above, without him I would not have made it out alive," Bill Lawrence said in a statement issued by the Tipton County Sheriff's Office, where he works as a corrections officer.
Lawrence, who appeared at a press conference but was too weak to speak, described in a written statement a harrowing ordeal that began on August 31 when he was separated from two hunting buddies while pursuing his quarry in dense woods.
He said it wasn't until he shot a squirrel and "realized I hadn't heard the other guys shoot," that he realized he might have a problem. He tried to find his way back to their truck, but got lost instead.
Lawrence said that each night in the Meeman Shelby Forest State Park, he covered his face with bug spray and his hunting vest to keep insects off his face.
He started out with "a shotgun, 15 shells, two bottles of water, a flashlight, a full can of deep woods off, a squirrel call and a can of dip."
By the second day, he had run out of most of his supplies, including most of the shotgun shells that he discharged to signal for help and his water.
"I would walk for a few hours, then I would sleep for a few hours to conserve my energy. I followed deer tracks to find water holes," he said. "I would look under wet logs for worms to eat."
It wasn't until Sunday that he was found after he followed the sound of motorcycles and reached a road, where he was rescued by two Harley riders.
"I think he was very fortunate," said Chief Donna Turner, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. She said Lawrence "was dehydrated, disoriented and weak" when found, and was covered with insect bites.
Search dogs, mounted officers, boats, ATVs and helicopters had mounted an intense search for Lawrence, and followed a trail he had marked with a shotgun shell casing and the label of an empty water bottle.
After he was found, Lawrence was first taken to hospital in Memphis to be treated for dehydration and severe insect bites and also monitored for any problems caused by his muddy water and fresh worms diet.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)