Jul 20, 2024  |  
 | Remer,MN
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Brad Matthews

NextImg:Missing Tennessee sheriff’s deputy found in river hours patrol car recovered

A missing Meigs County Sheriff’s Office deputy was recovered from the Hiwassee River on Thursday, hours after searchers recovered his patrol car.

Just after 9 p.m. Thursday, the neighboring Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook that MCSO Deputy Robert “R.J.” Leonard had been recovered. 

Deputy Leonard arrested a woman at around 9:51 p.m. Wednesday, and sent in a radio message 12 minutes later that dispatchers could not make out, Tennessee District 9 Attorney General Russell Johnson said at a news conference earlier on Thursday. 

Investigators believe the deputy mentioned water in his message. He is believed to have driven off the Blythe Ferry boat ramp in Birchwood, Tennessee. There is a history of similar accidents, particularly for people new to the area. Deputy Leonard had recently moved to Meigs County from New York.

“The ones that go off, they don’t know the roads. They come in here too fast, and the next thing you know they’re in the river,” Attorney General Johnson said.

When Deputy Leonard did not check in later Wednesday night, the search began. Investigators found his patrol car first, with the driver’s side window open and an arrested woman, as of yet unidentified, dead in the backseat.

“So we’ve got a person in the back of the vehicle, we think it was the female subject that was arrested, we don’t have an identification or confirmation on any of that. We have a lot of mud in the front seat but nobody in the front seat,” Attorney General Johnson said. 

The woman was handcuffed, Attorney General Johnson added.

Deputy Leonard, 35, was new to the force and had recently moved to the area with his wife and five kids, according to WVLT-TV.

“Deputy Leonard had been on the force about two months. He was doing a pretty good job. A really good job. It’s just hard when the department is like a family,” Meigs County Sheriff Jackie Melton said.

• Brad Matthews can be reached at