JeffCo deputies reunite missing South Carolina man with his family

Posted 5/27/21

When Zach Hook went missing from his home in Pelion, South Carolina in early May, his parents thought the worst had befallen their son.

But as fate would have it, Hook’s path brought him all …

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JeffCo deputies reunite missing South Carolina man with his family


When Zach Hook went missing from his home in Pelion, South Carolina in early May, his parents thought the worst had befallen their son.

But as fate would have it, Hook’s path brought him all the way to Washington where he was met by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

And incidentally, one of his television heroes.

It’s probably a thought most folks have entertained after a particularly rough day at work: just dropping everything and taking off on the open road, bound for horizons unknown.

While most everyone has considered this notion, far fewer have actually acted upon it. But this is exactly what Hook did following a particularly hectic day at work.

According to Hook’s family, the 31-year-old is a very hard worker who lives a normal life. However, cognitively-speaking, he computes things a bit differently and doctors have suggested that he’s on the autism spectrum. Like everyone, Zach can occasionally become overwhelmed with stressful situations, but sometimes when things get to be too much, he prefers to just hit the road.

On Wednesday, May 5, hit the road he most-certainly did: about 2,800 miles of it.

After hopping in his truck, Hook decided to make a cross-country excursion out to the Pacific Northwest.

But why the Pacific Northwest? Well, Hook has a particular affinity for the TV shows “Ax Men” — which followed loggers in the region — and “Dark Woods Justice” — which focused on members of law enforcement serving the Olympic Peninsula region. The programs aired on the History Channel and Discovery Channel, respectively. 

Being the superfan he is, Hook decided to head out this way in hopes of meeting some of his woodsy heroes from TV.

A family in fear

While on the surface Hook’s story may seem like a tale of adventure and his lighthearted, albeit poorly-planned, trip, the fact is, Hook’s actions had serious consequences for his loved ones back home.

As Zach’s father, Jud Hook, put it, “This time I thought he was dead.”

“We gave him six days and we decided to report him missing,” he said in a telephone interview with The Leader. And this wasn’t the first time Zach had left either. 

In the past, Zach has taken off with little notice, Jud explained, but this time was different. He’d left no note and he was no longer answering his cell phone.

Zach’s parents endured nearly two weeks of silence after their son disappeared, during which time they had begun to fear the worst.

“I had given it to God,” Jud Hook said of his son’s fate. “That’s all I could do.”

“Jud and I both, we thought he was gone this time,” said Renee Gantt, Zach’s mom.

“We thought he had met his demise, my hopes were thin that he was coming home this time,” she added.

Gantt said she’s lost count of Hook’s stress-driven departures, but she estimated they’ve been happening with some regularity for the past six years.

During previous trips out west, she noted, Hook has actually been able to successfully find the loggers featured on “Ax Men” and meet them.

“That’s his infatuation with y’all’s coast,” she said. “That’s why he keeps coming, he’s looking for them.”

On May 16, exactly 11 days after Hook left his home in South Carolina, deputies with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to a call from a concerned motorist who had noticed someone lying on the side of Center Road near Quilcene.

Reading from the dispatch notes, Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole relayed the story of how deputies came to learn of Hook’s story.

“The call came in at 1:31 a.m. and the report was for a male on the side of the road,” Nole said. “‘Seemed unconscious; did raise arm to signal he was alive.’ This [report] was coming from a person who was driving by,” the sheriff said.

Nole said the driver added that the person had been close to the fogline and he was in danger of being struck by passing vehicles.

Dispatched to the scene were deputies Kolby Schreier and Dean Murray. Upon arrival, the deputies learned of Hook’s unusual story.

On the road again

According to interviews with Hook, deputies believe that after making the trip west and searching for the “Ax Men” loggers, Hook’s truck broke down on a logging road in Grays Harbor County.

Hook abandoned the truck and managed to hitchhike and walk all the way to Jefferson County, determined to find the folks featured on “Dark Woods Justice.”

“He was on this mission to kind of fulfill his dreams of being at the places and with the people that are part of these shows that he likes so much,” Nole explained. “For what it’s worth, I heard he got a pair of Crocs somewhere down in Mason County, brand new, and it had a hole worn in it when they found him on Center Road.”

After finding him beside the road, deputies made up a bed for Hook inside the lobby of the jail where he rested for that evening.

The following day Deputy Chandler Knight arranged for Hook to be put up at the Hadlock Motel, while they coordinated with his family to get him back home.

Meanwhile, Corrections Sergeant Troy Phillis volunteered to spend his day off driving down to Grays Harbor County to retrieve Hook’s wallet and ID, which had been recovered from his truck and would be needed for him to board a flight back home to South Carolina.    

Tammy Jenkins and Trisha Ulrich, staff at the Hadlock Motel, noted that Hook had been a model guest. As to the matter of compensation for his stay, “everything was taken care of.”

A special treat

One of Hook’s favorite subjects from the television series “Dark Woods Justice” was Deputy Adam Newman.

Hook explained to Newman’s fellow deputies that he admired the star for his knowledge of the wilderness that surrounded the area he served. And it was with this knowledge in hand, the deputies arranged for Hook to meet a special guest. 

Sergeant Brandon Przygocki, reached out to Newman and asked the deputy to make a visit to the Hadlock Motel on Hook’s last night in town.

Newman obliged. 

“The look on his face, man, it was just priceless,” Przygocki said. “He was so excited to see Adam Newman. It was that moment that I realized he’s going to remember this moment for the rest of his life.”

The work of the sheriff’s deputies wasn’t quite complete with the appearance of Newman at the Hadlock Motel, however.

After finishing up his night shift at 6 a.m. Deputy Schreier returned at 10 a.m. to offer Hook a ride to the airport. Officers at the airport then escorted Hook to his gate and watched him board the plane. 

“I want to give God the glory for putting the [deputies] in his path,” Jud Hook said, after his son had returned to South Carolina. “I even told Kolby [Schreier], I wished I could have them come down and train our officers here in South Carolina, because this guy went above and beyond what he had to do.”

Gantt, too, thanked the almighty for placing such compassionate people in Hook’s path, calling the deputies’ efforts nothing short of “amazing.”

“It’s just amazing to me, because in the world that we live in today, people don’t have hearts like that anymore,” Gantt said.

“I am just so thankful that they did.”

A win for deputies

The sheriff noted that it wasn’t just Zach who benefited from his interaction with his deputies.

The deputies did, as well.

“We’re all humans, too, and lately it seems like people don’t want us around,” Nole said. “We always say we got into this to help people … In my opinion, this is what law enforcement is all about.”

Reflecting on the ordeal, Przygocki agreed.

“How our office handled it, and how our office took care of him and looked out for him, it was just incredible to see,”  Przygocki said. “It was refreshing, I guess you could say.”

To Deputies Knight, Schreier, Murray, and Newman and Sgt. Phillis, Przygocki sent an email thanking them for their professionalism and the compassion they showed Hook.    

“Because of how you handled yourselves, Zach was not left on the roadside nor was he forgotten about,” Przygocki wrote in the email. “Both Zack and his family will forever remember you guys, our Sheriff’s Office, and what you did for them.”

“I applaud you for going above and beyond the sheriff’s mission. What each of you did exemplifies why our organization is top notch,” Przygocki added.