The body of a missing Williamsburg man, who disappeared around Thanksgiving Day, was found in southern Laurel County late Sunday evening.
About 10 p.m. a rabbit hunter noticed a pick-up truck parked about one-half mile from the intersection of I-75 and the Cumberland Gap Parkway. A deceased man was discovered inside the truck.
The vehicle at that location matched the description of a vehicle that authorities had been searching for in regards to a missing Williamsburg man, according to a press release from Laurel County Sheriff John Root.
The body was identified as that of Gary A. Patrick, 29, of Gary Hinkle Road, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
An autopsy was conducted Monday morning at the state medical examiner’s office in an attempt to determine a cause of death, but so far authorities don’t know how Patrick died, according to Deputy Gilbert Acciardo, public affairs deputy for the Laurel County Sheriff’s Department.
Acciardo cautioned that the investigation isn’t complete, but said, “initially we are not thinking there is any foul play involved.”
Authorities aren’t sure how long Patrick had been dead, but Acciardo said that he appeared to die there at the truck.
Toxicology results aren’t complete, so officials don’t know whether drugs or alcohol played a role in Patrick’s death, Acciardo added.
Patrick was last seen by his family members on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, and was reported missing by his family a short time later to the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department.
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird said that his department was also conducting a missing person investigation regarding Patrick.
Bird said that according to Patrick’s wife, he left home and stayed gone for days at a time, but he always maintained phone contact with her, which hadn’t happened in this particular instance.
“His cell phone has been pinged. There haven’t been any outgoing calls on his phone since Nov. 25,” Bird said Friday. “We have an area of interest from the last ping, but there is no more pings, which means the phone has been powered off or the battery is dead on it.”
The last time Patrick’s wife had communication with him was early Thanksgiving morning.
Bird said that through the investigation, police were able to track Patrick back to a location on Highway 92E early on the morning on Nov. 27.
“As far as we know this was the last place that he has been seen,” Bird added.
Williamsburg police got involved with the case Thursday when a bus driver reported to police about 4 p.m. that he thought he saw a vehicle on its top in the Cumberland River near the US25W bridge, which is near the mall.
Initially, Williamsburg police were unaware that the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department already had an open missing person case on Patrick.
The bus driver’s report sparked a search in the river in part because authorities thought the report could have been connected with Patrick’s disappearance and been his vehicle in the water.
Williamsburg Fire and Rescue and Woodbine Fire and Rescue put boats in the Cumberland River about 5 p.m. Thursday in an attempt to locate the possible vehicle in the river.
Sonar showed an image in the water that was consistent with a vehicle on its top.
The search was called off about 6 p.m. due to darkness but resumed Friday morning.
When boats went back to the location Friday morning where the sonar image had been spotted a day earlier, it was gone.
Rescue boats searched up and down the river, but abandoned the search about 3:20 p.m. Friday.
About 15 – 20 emergency responders were involved in the search Friday.
Williamsburg Fire Chief Larry Todd said that it’s possible whatever was spotted Thursday simply floated down the river, but it doesn’t appear to have been a vehicle.
“We caught something on sonar. It was more debris than anything,” Todd said. “When we went back Friday that area was in three feet of water so that anything, which was there, we would have seen it. We went back and looked and there wasn’t anything there.”
Laurel County Sheriff’s Detectives Kyle Gray and Kevin Berry and Deputy Daniel Grigsby are continuing the investigation into Patrick’s death, and were assisted at the scene by the Laurel County Coroner’s Office.
Whitley County Sheriff’s Deputy James Fox investigated the initial missing person case involving Patrick.