The body of a missing deputy from Putnam County Florida, a 35-year-old mother of four who worked with the Putnam Sheriff’s Office, was found Saturday by divers scouring the St. John’s River in Welaka, central Florida. Deputy Brandee Smith was reported as missing early Friday morning, after she was tossed overboard when the boat she was on hit an object in the river.
According to 10News out of Tampa Bay, Smith and her boyfriend were aboard a small, 14-foot skiff-style boat that struck a channel marker around 4:30 a.m. Friday morning. Smith was thrown over, and she went under the water without surfacing. Her boyfriend, whose name was not released, was not injured.
Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy said search crews were searching in ten to fifteen-foot deep water, but that there was zero visibility. Teams of searchers looked five nautical miles in either direction from the point of the incident, and finally located Smith’s body, which had washed up downriver near Sportsman Drive along the east bank.
Capt. Joseph Wells, a spokesman for the Putnam Sheriff’s Office, said Brandee was a “loving mother of four, with her family being the center of her life.” Smith joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2012, Wells said, and “blew us away every day with her abilities and her desire to serve the community,” adding that Smith “left her mark on all of us and we shall never forget her.”
According to the Orlando Sentinel, over 150 officers from nearly a dozen local, county and federal law enforcement agencies partnered with Putnam County officials to locate Smith. Helicopters scanned the area overhead while special sonar scanning boats were brought in.
“These professionals served with dedication and distinction under the most difficult of circumstances. Many members of the community and several local businesses provided food and other assistance to Brandee’s family and search crews throughout the search,” Wells said.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is continuing to investigate the accident, though no foul play is suspected.
Still, many are wondering why the pair were out on the river so early in the morning. While Smith was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed fishing, they were still over two hours from sunrise, and night visibility was low.
“It’s dark out there,” said Randy Smith (not related to Brandee) who works at a bait store on the river. “And that moon couldn’t have been too bright out there… I don’t know what they were doing. And it’s easy to hit some of these channel markers if you don’t see them,” Randy said, adding that it’s “too early for shrimp season.”
Capt. Wells said Smith’s death has hit them hard. “We’re like a family,” Wells said. Putnam County deputies that worked directly with Smith were given time off to cope with her loss.