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Body of missing Tenn. sheriff’s deputy found after cruiser discovered in river with another body inside

Deputy Robert J. Leonard was in his first year serving with the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office

Deputy Sheriff Robert J. Leonard

Deputy Sheriff R.J. Leonard died in a single-vehicle crash into the Tennessee River off the Blythe Ferry Boat Ramp in Birchwood.

Officer Down Memorial Page

By Evan Rosen, Jager Weatherby
New York Daily News

MEIGS COUNTY, Tenn. — A search for a missing Tennessee deputy came to an end Thursday night, hours after his patrol car was found in a river with another body inside, officials confirmed.

Authorities announced the body of Meigs County Deputy Robert “R.J.” Leonard, who was previously reported missing, had been pulled from the Tennessee River around 6:30 p.m. local time. His body was being transported to Knoxville as the investigation continued.

Leonard was last seen on Wednesday evening before responding to a call of a disturbance around the Birchwood Community, in the southern part of the state, The Tennessean reported. He made an arrest after arriving on the scene and was last heard from on his way to the jail.

On Thursday, Leonard’s patrol car was found upside down in the Tennessee River, with the trunk blown open from the pressure of the water, District Attorney General Russell Johnson said at a press conference.

The body of a woman was also found in the backseat covered in “a lot of mud,” Johnson said, adding she’s believed to be the person Leonard arrested Wednesday night but could not confirm her identity.

While no body was found in the front seat of the vehicle, the driver’s side window had been rolled down. Multiple agencies joined in the search of the river and surrounding areas for signs of Deputy Leonard.

The deputy was in his first year serving with the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, and had sent a one-word text message to his wife on Wednesday night that simply read, “Arrest.” It’s unclear what the reported disturbance was, what the deputy found when he arrived or why he made his arrest.

Due to poor service in the heavily wooded area where Leonard was driving, officers said they couldn’t make out what he said over dispatch on his way toward the jail. However, through the use of voice analysis tools, investigators were later able to pick up a single word — “water” — which they believe Leonard said into his radio communication.

Before discovering Leonard’s body, Johnson earlier said that while the investigation was ongoing, officials didn’t “think the outcome is going to be good for Deputy Leonard.”

“We always hope it’s a rescue … but we also have to face the facts that are in front of us,” added Hamilton County Sheriff Austin Garrett . “We won’t lose hope for the fact that we could still recover him. It’s plain to see that he made it out of the car.”

Meigs County Sheriff Jackie Melton told the Tennessean that Leonard had only been on the force about two months.

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