Missing Deputy Found Dead in River

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The body of a missing deputy sheriff was discovered on Thursday, February 15, police announced in a Facebook post. 

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee disclosed the recovery of Deputy Robert R.J. Leonard’s body from the Tennessee River, marking a solemn conclusion to a rigorous search operation. 

Deputy Leonard went missing after conducting an arrest late on a Wednesday night. In a collaborative effort, authorities with the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office discovered Leonard’s submerged vehicle in the river straddling Meigs and Hamilton counties early Thursday.

Responding to a disturbance involving a dispute between a man and a woman on a bridge just before 10 pm Wednesday, February 14, Leonard apprehended the woman. However, following the arrest, he did not check in with dispatch, prompting an immediate search. The found vehicle, with the driver’s side window open, was overturned in the water and contained the body of the arrested woman covered in mud in the backseat. Efforts are underway to confirm her identity. Leonard’s body was retrieved shortly thereafter.

The recovery mission saw participation from several law enforcement entities, including the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Chattanooga Police Department, which escorted Leonard’s remains to the Knoxville Regional Medical Examiner’s Office. 

Preliminary findings suggest the incident was accidental. District Attorney Russell Johnson pointed out the dangerous nature of the landing near the bridge and posited that Leonard, possibly distracted and unfamiliar with the locale, may have inadvertently driven into the river. This theory is partly based on Leonard’s final known communications: a text to his wife indicating “Arrest,” and a subsequent unclear radio transmission to dispatch interpreted as “Water.”

Leonard, who hailed from New York and had joined the force after graduating from the training academy in December, was praised for his exemplary performance on the night shift by Meigs County Sheriff Jackie Melton. The loss of Deputy Leonard has deeply affected his colleagues, including Meigs County Chief Deputy Brian Malone, who expressed the collective grief of the department, emphasizing Leonard’s integration into their law enforcement family.

The incident has sparked discussions on the safety of the area, especially for those not well-acquainted with its geography. An episode several weeks prior involved a woman being rescued from the same vicinity.

Leonard leaves behind a wife and three children in nearby Roane County. The local law enforcement and community are united in mourning the loss of Deputy Leonard, whose dedication to his role culminated in this tragic event. 

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