1 death during Florence

Hurricane Florence was blowing across eastern North Carolina hours before making landfall, and Bennie Lee Sutton's hunting beagles were howling in their backyard kennel. So he was up in the middle of the night doing what he knew would quiet the pack of more than a dozen hounds: parking his pickup nearby and shining the headlights into their pen.

Sutton could be heard talking to someone, probably the dogs, shortly before dawn Friday as winds swirled 70 miles north of where the hurricane was about to make landfall near Wilmington, said his daughter, Tameria. But hours later when she and her mother looked outside for the avid hunter, he was gone and some of his dogs were outside their pens, roaming their small neighbourhood surrounded by croplands and open fields.

Tameria searched again, this time looking behind the kennels in the yard Sutton and his wife, Marian, owned for nearly 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 blamed on the storm.

"He was trying to go around and catch his dogs. We're thinking basically what happened is he slipped and he fell or something and he probably had a heart attack," Tameria Sutton said. "It was still raining real hard when we found him."

Bennie Lee Sutton was 77, a big man with a bad knee and a pacemaker who previously had double-bypass heart surgery, his family said.

There were no wounds, so no autopsy was performed to establish the cause of his death, something Marian Sutton accepts as logical.

He formerly worked on the production line at a local textile plant and then did tree removal, his wife said. The couple's son died falling out of a tree that he and his father were cutting down in 2008, said Marian Sutton, 68.

"He was just a big man, with a big heart, big emotion," Nicholson said.

It's not clear if any of the friends in his hunting club will take the dogs, Marian Sutton said, but at her age she's not able to care for such a large pack and plans to give them away.

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