In this Sept. 18, 2018, photo, Marian Sutton checks of her deceased husband and the dogs in their backyard kennel in the vicinity of Kinston, N. C. Bennie Lee Sutton’s death was attributed to Hurricane Florence because he was outside with the dogs the storm the wind swirled about the area and had an apparent heart attack, his family said. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)
KINSTON, N. C. – Hurricane Florence was to blow across the east of North Carolina hours before making landfall, and Bennie Lee Sutton’s hunting beagles were howling in their backyard kennel. He was in the middle of the night to do what he knew would calm the packaging of more than a dozen dogs: parking his pickup in the near and shining the headlights into their pen.
Sutton could be heard talking to someone, probably the dogs, shortly before sunrise Friday as the wind swirled 70 km north of where the hurricane was to make landfall in the vicinity of Wilmington, said his daughter, Tameria. But an hour later, when she and her mother looked out for the avid hunter, he was gone and some of his dogs were out of their cages, roaming in their small neighborhood surrounded by farmland and open fields.
Tameria search, this time looking behind the kennels in the garden, Sutton and his wife Marian, owned for almost half a century. There he was, on his back in a grassy field on the other side of his property line. Doctors chalked up his death as one of the 27 in North Carolina in the shoes of the storm.
“He tried to go around and catch his dogs. We think actually what happened is he slipped and he fell, or something and he probably had a heart attack,” Tameria Sutton said. “It was dark and it was raining really hard when we found him.”
Bennie Lee Sutton was 77, a big man with a bad knee and a pacemaker, which previously had double-bypass heart surgery, his family said.
There were no wounds, so no autopsy was performed to determine the cause of his death, something Marian Sutton accepts as logical.
He previously worked on the production line at a local textile factory and then did the tree removal, his wife said. The couple’s son, died falling from a tree that he and his father were cut down in 2008, said Marian Sutton, 68.
The couple met after Bennie had finished high school and he was a popular local athlete, ” she said. She was romantic, years later, married in 1972 and moved to the 1,110-square-foot brick house was built for them.
“He was a people person. He would mingle with the drunk as someone who is sober,” Marian said Sutton.
An avid outdoorsman with deer heads — together with the other end of the one animal — mounted on the living room walls, Sutton was probably outside in a storm to sit safely inside, his daughter said. Photos of his family, as well as former President Barack Obama, standing on a glass table and lean against the legs under it in the middle of the room. Trophies and programs collected during Sutton athletic career in the 1970s and 1980s to fill a glass cabinet.
W. S. Nicholson Sr. knew Sutton since the beginning of the 1970s, when he was seen on the softball diamond and basketball courts. Nicholson worked in a local tire plant and in one of the softball teams, where he met Sutton as a block of a man about 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds often beat opposing places on the outfield fences.
The tall black man was so good that all-white teams wanted him on their side, despite the informal separation of the day, the help to change to a small, rural town in the South, Nicholson said.
“It was still the mentality of many people who don’t really want to mix,” Nicholson said. “But because of his talent and his character, his personality, that they wanted, they needed him to be.
Sure, but controlled, Sutton never claimed to be a referee, the call on the diamond, said Nicholson, who was Sutton’s pastor at Savannah Free Will Baptist Church in Grifton. Taking a job, Sutton would see by Nicholson said. The church would raise money by selling boxed lunches of grilled chicken, Nicholson said, so Sutton would start with the charcoal at 2:30 pm, so customers can begin picking up their meals eight hours later.
Sutton also does not hide his emotions, joining in the praise during church services or keeping friends laugh.
“He was a big man, with a big heart, great emotion,” Nicholson said.
It is not clear whether one of the friends in the yacht club will be with the dogs, Marian Sutton said, but at her age she is not able to care for such a large package and plans to give them away.
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