Funeral services have been set for the Bryan County employee who is being hailed as a hero after he drowned while rescuing a girl and her dog last week.
Warren Eugene “Gene” Hall, 36, of Pembroke, drowned shortly before noon Tuesday in the small lake next to the County Administration Building by Henderson Park.
“What he did was so selfless, he is a true hero,” said Margaret Stolzoff, who witnessed the incident and tried herself to save Hall. “He didn’t think of himself at all.”
According to interviews with witnesses and the man’s family, Hall was athletic and a strong swimmer.
“He could swim like a fish,” said Linwood Gordon, Hall’s uncle. “He was in great shape and worked out pretty much every day.”
According to information pieced together through interviews, Hall was working by the lake trimming weeds Tuesday when the incident occurred. Gordon said his nephew had recently hired on full-time as a maintenance worker with the county.
“He was so proud of that job,” Gordon said.
A girl had jumped into the water to save her dog and her mother began yelling for help. Hall removed his work boots and put down the weed whacker he was using before going into the water to save the girl and her dog.
“When we went to get his belongings from the coroner, they had all of his clothes but no boots,” Gordon said. “He knew enough to take them off before he jumped in the water. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Stolzoff said she and a friend, Sarah McLaughlin, had been at a nearby park with their children when she drove by the lake and heard screaming.
“The mother was screaming and then I saw the girl and the dog in the water and thought it was odd because no one swims there,” Stolzoff said. “I stopped and ran over to help and after he (Hall) helped the girl and the dog get out, he turned and started swimming back toward the other side.”
Stolzoff said the woman kept screaming and by the time she turned around, Hall had disappeared.
“I jumped in the water and went to where he was but I couldn’t find him,” she said. “He just went down like he got pulled under or something. He wasn’t flailing around. It was eerily calm.”
Stolzoff said Hall was a “strong swimmer” from what she observed.
“It was less than 60 seconds by the time I got to where he had been and I kept feeling around for him but … nothing,” she added, fighting back tears. “It’s so deep there I couldn’t even touch the bottom.”
McLaughlin said she arrived shortly after and stopped when she saw Stolzoff in the water.
“I didn’t know what was going on but I know CPR and first aid so I stopped to see if I could help,” she said. “When the ambulance arrived they told Margaret she had to get out of the water because of alligators.
“I just know he’s a hero,” McLaughlin said. “What he did was very selfless.”
Hall’s body was recovered by rescue divers shortly after 1 p.m.
Rob Lanoue, owner of the Scooba Shack, was one of the divers who helped recover Hall’s body. He said he thinks the water temperature is to blame.
“It couldn’t have been a gator, not at this time of year,” he said. “The water temperature was in the 50s, and you’ve got about 10 minutes before your muscles start cramping.”
Gordon said the coroner’s office told the family there was no indication that Hall had encountered an alligator.
Hall previously worked at McDonald’s in Richmond Hill and Pembroke and also was the youth director at Christ Baptist Church in Pembroke.
“He hosted a Bible study three times a week and was the right-hand man to the pastor,” Gordon said. “We’re all very sad, but this doesn’t surprise us. Gene lived his life to help others.”
Hall was born in Savannah and also lived in Europe before returning to North Bryan when his father was stationed at Fort Stewart. He is survived by his parents, Joseph and Sandra Poole of Columbia, S.C., as well as siblings Tony Hall of Ellabell, Dominque Merriweather of Birmingham, Ala., and Carla Mitchell of San Antonio, and grandparents Evamae Taylor of Ellabell and Vera Hall of Hazlehurst, in addition to several aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his father, Anthony Hall.
Visitation will be 10 a.m. to noon Friday at the Hendrix Park Gym with funeral services beginning at noon.
A gofundme account has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/k95jq9-warren-hall.