Woman dies handcuffed in back of police car after officer drives into river

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By Asiya Ali

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A woman was discovered dead after a police officer who handcuffed her to the backseat crashed his car into a river.

The Knox County Forensics Centre has identified Tabitha Smith as the victim who was found in the back of a patrol vehicle after a cop named Deputy Robert "RJ" Leonard drove into the Tennessee River on Wednesday (February 14) evening.

According to The Mirror, the 35-year-old was arrested after Leonard was called to a disturbance near the Highway 60 bridge at around 10PM. He then informed his coworkers that he was driving the woman to the county jail.

Ten minutes later, the cop lost communication with the office, which was when he shared a harrowing final radio call uttering the word "water." Cops then used "special techniques" to decipher the word as the dispatch was not picking up what Leonard was saying.

Tragically, the car crashed into the river and Smith - who leaves behind a husband and two children - was unable to free herself and lost her life in the horrific crash.

Friends and family have now come forward to pay tribute to Smith - also known as "Tabby" by loved ones - following her tragic death.

The late woman's friend Sheena Mchome told WVLT that Smith was "a happy person, outgoing, she loved life...I could not imagine being trapped and knowing my life was going to end."

Heartbroken friend Emilie Neusel also shared that Smith "had a heart of gold, and despite any struggles and troubles she had, she was a great person," adding: "I hope they remember her by her name. Tabby Smith. And I hope she’s remembered by more than the girl in the back seat."

The patrol car was extracted from the Tennessee River the following day, and the woman's body was recovered. However, Leonard's body was found hours later near the location where the cruiser was removed, as reported by the sheriff's office.

"There was a whole lot of mud. There is a body in the backseat of the car covered by a lot of mud. A lot of mud on the front seat, but [there's] nobody in the front seat," Meigs County District Attorney Russell Johnson said, as cited by Daily Mail.

A satellite tracking of the late deputy's vehicle and a location-sharing app led the authorities to Blythe Ferry Road near the Tennessee River. The car was then found upside down with wheels up with the driver-side window down.

"They triangulated the last position of his phone and the Life360 that his wife has attached to his phone, and it appears that they're almost in the same location," Johnson said.

While investigations regarding the fatal incident are ongoing, Johnson has suggested that the deputy - who graduated from the training academy in December - was texting and talking on the radio while driving on a dangerous road.

"They are not well-lit. They are not well marked. They are narrow. If he's not paying attention, he could hit that water pretty quick," the district attorney said.

Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy.

Featured image credit: David Talukdar / Getty

Woman dies handcuffed in back of police car after officer drives into river

vt-author-image

By Asiya Ali

Article saved!Article saved!

A woman was discovered dead after a police officer who handcuffed her to the backseat crashed his car into a river.

The Knox County Forensics Centre has identified Tabitha Smith as the victim who was found in the back of a patrol vehicle after a cop named Deputy Robert "RJ" Leonard drove into the Tennessee River on Wednesday (February 14) evening.

According to The Mirror, the 35-year-old was arrested after Leonard was called to a disturbance near the Highway 60 bridge at around 10PM. He then informed his coworkers that he was driving the woman to the county jail.

Ten minutes later, the cop lost communication with the office, which was when he shared a harrowing final radio call uttering the word "water." Cops then used "special techniques" to decipher the word as the dispatch was not picking up what Leonard was saying.

Tragically, the car crashed into the river and Smith - who leaves behind a husband and two children - was unable to free herself and lost her life in the horrific crash.

Friends and family have now come forward to pay tribute to Smith - also known as "Tabby" by loved ones - following her tragic death.

The late woman's friend Sheena Mchome told WVLT that Smith was "a happy person, outgoing, she loved life...I could not imagine being trapped and knowing my life was going to end."

Heartbroken friend Emilie Neusel also shared that Smith "had a heart of gold, and despite any struggles and troubles she had, she was a great person," adding: "I hope they remember her by her name. Tabby Smith. And I hope she’s remembered by more than the girl in the back seat."

The patrol car was extracted from the Tennessee River the following day, and the woman's body was recovered. However, Leonard's body was found hours later near the location where the cruiser was removed, as reported by the sheriff's office.

"There was a whole lot of mud. There is a body in the backseat of the car covered by a lot of mud. A lot of mud on the front seat, but [there's] nobody in the front seat," Meigs County District Attorney Russell Johnson said, as cited by Daily Mail.

A satellite tracking of the late deputy's vehicle and a location-sharing app led the authorities to Blythe Ferry Road near the Tennessee River. The car was then found upside down with wheels up with the driver-side window down.

"They triangulated the last position of his phone and the Life360 that his wife has attached to his phone, and it appears that they're almost in the same location," Johnson said.

While investigations regarding the fatal incident are ongoing, Johnson has suggested that the deputy - who graduated from the training academy in December - was texting and talking on the radio while driving on a dangerous road.

"They are not well-lit. They are not well marked. They are narrow. If he's not paying attention, he could hit that water pretty quick," the district attorney said.

Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy.

Featured image credit: David Talukdar / Getty