Wife of Plum boater missing in Lake Erie waits for search crews ‘to bring him home’
Ray Burns relished the chance to unwind by fishing ever since learning to cast a rod as a young child alongside his brother and dad.
“He always just loved to be able to throw out a rod and relax and wait for a bite,” recalled Marcy Burns, his wife of nearly four decades.
Most of the time, her husband stuck to fishing in small creeks relatively close to their Plum home.
Marcy Burns believes that last weekend likely marked the first time that her husband set out to fish from a boat on a major body of water, Lake Erie, for what was supposed to be a short getaway with his brother, Thomas, and a couple of friends.
No one was prepared for the trip to turn tragic.
Waiting to ‘bring him home’
Search teams have not recovered the body of 58-year-old Raymond Burns since his brother, companions and rescue teams say they saw his body sink near the site of a boating accident Saturday morning.
Each of the past three days, Marcy Burns has received at least one phone call from an investigator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to provide her an update.
Crews including Coast Guard and firefighter rescue teams paused the search amid severe weather Sunday and then resumed efforts Monday with help from sonar scanning technology.
“I’m just waiting for them to bring him home,” said Marcy Burns, 55.
‘He went down under the water’
She said she was at home late Saturday morning when she received an urgent call from her sister-in-law, whose husband Thomas Burns, 63, of Enon Valley, Beaver County, had sent her an alarming message: “It’s an emergency. Call me back.”
When Thomas Burns didn’t pick up immediately, the sister-in-law called Marcy and asked if she had heard from her husband.
Minutes later, Marcy Burns learned the men’s boat had been swamped by a squall about 10 miles offshore north of Conneaut, Ohio.
The boat capsized, throwing the men overboard.
“It happened real fast. It was just a storm that came across real fast, and the waves hit and the boat toppled and they had floated off,” Marcy Burns said.
Three of the men, including Thomas Burns, managed to swim up to the roughly 21-foot overturned boat and cling to it.
A charter fisherman spotted the capsized boat and rushed over to help, taking multiple trips until he got all three men safely onto his boat while grappling to avoid the 6-foot squalls inundating the lake that day, the Star Beacon reported.
The rescued men told him there was another man to save.
Ray Burns floated in a life jacket a short distance away.
The men called to him and threw a life raft his way.
“He didn’t even move,” Marcy Burns said. “By the time they got to Ray, he was seen lifeless. … Then he went down under the water.”
The charter captain told the Star Beacon he saw Burns’ arm slip out of the life vest and then saw him fall at least 15 feet down.
Thomas Burns and David Harris, 65, of Plum were treated and released for minor injuries at a nearby hospital. The fourth man on the trip, whose name was not released, was not injured.
Mourning a loyal worker, husband, dad
Ray Burns was a well-liked man, his wife said.
“He was a very good-hearted person. Everybody loved him,” Marcy Burns said. “He is going to be missed by so many coworkers, friends, family. … He didn’t dislike anyone.”
Ray Burns worked nearly 32 years as a laborer for Plum’s sewer and water department, where his duties included repairing pipes and checking meters once a month.
Ray and Marcy Burns grew up together in Plum’s Renton section. They both attended Plum High School.
“He was quiet. He kept to himself, but he had a very good personality,” she said.
In addition to fishing, he enjoyed hunting and listening to music ranging from country to oldies in his spare time, Marcy Burns said.
She said he’d let her control the TV and never complained, even when she wanted to watch Hallmark movies.
”He was my best friend,” she said.
The pair married 39 years ago.
Saturday’s incident at Lake Erie came 18 years and one day after the couple confronted a major tragedy.
Their first child, Mandy, died Aug. 16, 2001, after she was strangled by her estranged husband, who was later convicted of killing her and trying to make it look like an accident by crashing a car into a tree.
She left behind a 9-month-old child, Skyler, whom Ray and Marcy raised and adopted as their daughter.
Skyler is now 18.
The couple has another daughter, Kaila Murray, who is 31 and lives in Texas and is flying into town to be with the family on Wednesday night, Marcy Burns said.
Murray recalled by email the times her father took her camping and fishing when she was young.
“I know now that I have kids, that it takes a lot of patience, and that he had,” she said.
She said that his granddaughters, Haylie and Sophia, adored their “Pap-Pap.”
“He was so kind and gentle,” said Murray, lamenting how much it hurt to say so in the past tense.
“My dad always made us feel so special with his small, but simple gestures. He always put others before himself and always made sure we had everything we needed. He for sure had a very big heart.”
Ray’s brother, Thomas, declined to comment through Marcy.
”He’s physically OK, but emotionally he’s not,” she said.
A memorial gathering tentatively is set for Sept. 1 at Renton Fire Hall.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .