Tennessee deputy’s patrol car recovered from river with 2 bodies inside: police

The body of a Tennessee deputy has been recovered after his patrol car was found underwater in a river with a woman's body, believed to be an arrestee, inside, police said.

The body of a Tennessee deputy, who disappeared after making an arrest, has been recovered after his patrol car was found underwater.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) in Tennessee confirmed in a Facebook post that the body of 35-year-old Deputy Robert “R.J.” Leonard had been found on Thursday evening.

“His remains are currently being escorted to the Knoxville Regional Medical Examiner’s Office by motor units with the HCSO, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the Chattanooga Police Department,” police said.


Leonard, a rookie on the force, responded to a report of a man and woman fighting on a bridge shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday and took the woman into custody, according to Meigs County District Attorney Russell Johnson.

Authorities began searching for the deputy after he failed to respond to a status check.

Johnson said that one of Leonard’s last communications was a text to his wife that said, “Arrest.”

“His wife texted back and said, ‘That’s good’ or ‘That’s great,'” Johnson reported during a press briefing. “We know that his phone did not, evidently, receive that text.”

Early Thursday, authorities made the alarming discovery of Leonard’s patrol vehicle upside down in the Hiwassee River

Police found the body of the woman in the backseat of the patrol vehicle. Police believe that the body belongs to the arrestee.


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Multiple agencies are investigating how the vehicle ended up in the water.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Johnson said that they believe that this was an accident.

Johnson said that a preliminary report noted that the deputy appeared to be texting and radioing while driving in a poorly lit area.

“We’re operating under the theory that it was an accident — he missed his turn, he wasn’t familiar, and he was doing other things that may have caused him to go into the water,” Johnson said at the press briefing.

Officials said that the 35-year-old deputy lived nearby with his wife and three children.

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

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