Home US Mother of two who died while handcuffed in backseat of patrol car after sheriff’s deputy who arrested her crashed into Tennessee River

Mother of two who died while handcuffed in backseat of patrol car after sheriff’s deputy who arrested her crashed into Tennessee River

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The Tennessee woman found dead in the back seat of a submerged police cruiser has been identified as 35-year-old Tabitha Smith.

The Tennessee woman found dead in the back seat of a submerged police cruiser has been identified as 35-year-old Tabitha Smith.

Meigs County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert ‘RJ’ Leonard arrested Smith Wednesday night after he responded to a report of a man and woman fighting on a bridge around 10 p.m. Wednesday.

It was the first arrest of the new deputy. The two were later found after the patrol car crashed into a local pond.

Smith, whom her friends called Tabby, leaves behind a husband and two children, reported WVLT.

“He had a heart of gold and despite all the struggles and problems he had, he was a great person,” said his friend Emilie Neusel.

‘I hope they remember her by name. Tabby Smith. And I hope someone other than the girl in the back seat remembers her.

The Tennessee woman found dead in the back seat of a submerged police cruiser has been identified as 35-year-old Tabitha Smith.

Robert 'RJ' Leonard (pictured left with his wife), deputy with the Meigs County Sheriff's Office, made a chilling call to dispatch Wednesday night, saying

Robert ‘RJ’ Leonard (pictured left with his wife), deputy with the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, made a chilling call to dispatch Wednesday night, saying “water,” and subsequently lost contact with the office.

Smith's remains were discovered dead in the back seat of a submerged police cruiser, shortly before the missing officer's body was recovered from the river.

Smith’s remains were discovered dead in the back seat of a submerged police cruiser, shortly before the missing officer’s body was recovered from the river.

Her friend Sheena Mchome said: “She was a happy, outgoing person, she loved life.”

“I couldn’t imagine being trapped and knowing my life was going to end.”

Leonard made one last call to his office Wednesday night, saying “water,” before losing all communication with the office.

On Thursday, his patrol car was pulled from the Tennessee River and Smith’s body was recovered.

Leonard’s body was found hours later near where the patrol car was removed, according to the sheriff’s office.

‘There was a lot of mud. There is a body in the back seat of the car covered in a lot of mud. Lots of mud in the front seat, but [there’s] There’s no body in the front seat,” said Meigs County District Attorney Russell Johnson.

The MP graduated from the training academy in December last year and has since joined the force.

“Deputy Leonard had only been here for a couple of months, but he had become part of our family,” Chief Deputy Brian Malone said through tears.

“We’re going through a tough time here. It’s something we never deal with here in Meigs County,” he added.

Shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday, Leonard radioed dispatch, telling them he was headed to the county jail with a suspect.

Ten minutes later, communication with the agent was interrupted and he did not respond to a status check.

Around the same time, Leonard texted his wife saying, “arrest,” and his wife responded, “that’s great.”

On Thursday, a patrol car was pulled from the Tennessee River and a body believed to be that of the arrested person was recovered.

“Deputy Leonard had only been here for a couple of months, but he had become part of our family,” Deputy Chief Brian Malone said through tears.

“We know that his phone clearly did not receive that text message,” Johnson said.

In his last radio call, Leonard said “water,” a word that authorities had to use “special techniques” to decipher later.

“Dispatch couldn’t tell what he was saying,” Johnson said. “We think he was saying, ‘Water.'”

Satellite tracking of his vehicle and a location-sharing app on his photo led officers to Blythe Ferry Road near the Tennessee River.

“They triangulated the last position of his phone and the Life360 that his wife had connected to her phone, and it looks like they are almost in the same place,” Johnson said.

On Thursday morning, a vehicle filled with mud was located in the Tennessee River. It was upside down, with the wheels up and the driver’s side window down.

Agencies across the state are still investigating the incident, but Johnson said the officer appeared to be texting and talking on the radio while driving on a treacherous road.

‘They are not well lit. They are not well signposted. They are narrow. “If you’re not paying attention, you could hit the water pretty quickly,” Johnson said.

The deputy graduated from the training academy in December last year and joined the force since then.

The deputy graduated from the training academy in December last year and joined the force since then.

The devastating incident has left Leonard's wife and children distraught, as his wife shared in a social media post.

The devastating incident has left Leonard’s wife and children distraught, as his wife shared in a social media post.

“We’re operating under the theory that it was an accident: He missed his turn, he was unfamiliar and he was doing other things that could have caused him to fall into the water,” Johnson said.

Deputy Chief Malone stated that this is not the first accident in the area, noting a previous incident in December in which a woman survived after driving her car into the water.

The devastating incident has left Leonard’s wife and children distraught, as his wife shared in a social media post.

‘Our lives have changed forever. Please continue praying. Pray harder than ever before. My heart is broken for my children and I am an absolute mess. I will start communicating when I can achieve it.

‘For now, all I can do is cry. We will love you forever RJ. 17 years is not enough for you,” she wrote.

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