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HomeGeneralAuthorities Discover Bodies of Tennessee Deputy, Woman he Arrested in River

Authorities Discover Bodies of Tennessee Deputy, Woman he Arrested in River

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A picture of Robert R.J. Leonard
Source: Officer Down Memorial Page

On Monday, family, friends, and colleagues in law enforcement gathered to bid farewell to Deputy Robert “R.J.” Leonard as he was laid to rest. Last Wednesday, Deputy Leonard, while transporting a woman to the county jail, tragically lost his life.

The following day, his body, along with the woman and his vehicle, was found in the Tennessee River. Leonard, a rookie deputy with the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, was reported missing during routine dispatcher check-ins on Wednesday evening.

“Every deputy or officer that was out checked in and said they were OK, but not Deputy Leonard,” District Attorney General Russell Johnson said at a press conference Thursday. “So, for the next several hours, as surrounding agencies learned what was going on, began responding to this area.”

Since Leonard had responded to an incident near the river, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency initiated a visual sweep of the water. Authorities also noted that his phone pinged in the vicinity of the river.

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Cell Phone and tracking data eventually guided responders to the vicinity near a boat ramp, where officials noted that several other vehicles had rolled into the water. The Police Benevolent Foundation, which established a memorial fund to aid Leonard’s family, provided this information.

On Thursday afternoon, authorities confirmed that the vehicle submerged in the water was Leonard’s patrol car. “The vehicle was found nose in, but upside down, with its wheels up,” Johnson stated, further noting that the trunk had been blown open by the pressure.

Leonard’s body was not found in the vehicle, but the driver’s side window was down. The woman, who Leonard had detained, was discovered in the backseat, covered in “a lot of mud”. 

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However, she has not been publicly identified, and no further information about her was provided. The Meigs County Sheriff’s Office was unavailable for immediate clarification regarding the location where the deputy’s body was found.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office later confirmed that Leonard’s remains were transported to the Knoxville Regional Medical Examiner’s Office. However, the cause of death has not yet been announced. Johnson said that authorities would continue to investigate the incident to determine the cause of the accident.

“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. “There’s some skid marks and some scratch marks, too. So, there’s some indication that he was on the brakes at least trying to stop.”

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In the press conference, Meigs County Sheriff Brian Malone revealed that Leonard had been part of the team for only two months. “He was doing a pretty good job. A really good job. It’s just hard when the department is like a family,” Malone said tearfully.

Leonard, 35, originally from New York, is survived by his wife Christa Leonard and their five children, as well as his mother and two siblings, according to the Police Benevolent Foundation.

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