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'Big Man with a Big Heart' Died Protecting Dogs from Florence

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One of Tropical Storm Florence’s victims died in a field on his North Carolina property while keeping watch over his hunting beagles who cowered in their shelter as the storm’s winds picked up.

Bennie Lee Sutton was up in the middle of the night parking his pickup truck nearby and shining the headlights into their pen. He knew it was the only thing that kept them calm during storms.

“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, Bennie Lee Sutton’s daughter, told reporters. “It was still raining real hard when we found him.”

Sutton was an avid hunter and a big man, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 240 pounds, according to friends. “He was a people person. He would mingle with the drunkard just like somebody who’s sober,” his wife, Marian Sutton, said.

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

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“He was just a big man, with a big heart, big emotion,” W.S. Nicholson Sr., one of Bennie Lee Sutton’s closes friends, told reporters, adding that Sutton was a leader in the community, a man people wanted on their softball teams.

It’s not clear what will happen to the dogs, Marian Sutton said, noting that she will likely give them away.

More than 27 people have died from the storm, which blew into the Carolinas as a Category 1 hurricane before being downgraded.

It took its first two victims on Sept. 14 when a mother and infant were killed after a tree fell on their North Carolina home, according to local police reports.

The father was transported to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington for medical care, according to a tweet from the Wilmington police’s Twitter profile.

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