The body of a missing Meigs County, Tennessee, sheriff’s deputy has been found, officials said Thursday, hours after his patrol vehicle was pulled from the Tennessee River with the body of another person inside.

Deputy Robert “R.J.” Leonard was last heard from Wednesday night shortly after he arrested someone and was on his way to the jail. His patrol car was pulled Thursday from the water in the area of the Blythe Ferry boat ramp, District Attorney General Russell Johnson said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

The vehicle was found upside down with the trunk blown open by the pressure. A female body covered in “a lot of mud” was discovered in the back seat, Johnson said.

Johnson said officials believe the body is that of a person whom Leonard had arrested and was taking to the jail when he was last heard from, though that has not been confirmed. She has not been identified.

No one was found in the front seat, and the driver’s side window was rolled down. Leonard’s body was later found and his remains were being brought to the Knoxville Regional Medical Examiner’s Office, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday night.

Additional details about where and how his remains were found have not been released.

Hamilton County Sheriff Austin Garrett extended his prayers and condolences Thursday to the families of the deputy and the person found in the vehicle.

Leonard responded Wednesday night to a possible disorder on the bridge over the Tennessee River. He arrived and told dispatchers around 9:50 p.m. that he was taking a person to the Meigs County Jail, Johnson said Thursday morning.

The next and last time dispatchers heard from Leonard was 12 minutes later. He said something over the radio that could not immediately be understood. Analytics later determined Leonard may have said the word “water,” Johnson said.

Around the time he radioed in, Leonard also texted his wife one word: “arrest,” Johnson said, noting that the arrest was his first. She responded, but officials confirmed her text did not go through. Her Life360 location-sharing app would later help investigators determine his last known location. 

After Leonard failed to respond to a dispatch status check, agencies from around Meigs County joined to assist search efforts.

“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 Thursday afternoon. “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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