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Body of Missing FL Sheriff's Deputy Brandee Smith Found.

edited 3 Apr 2016 in Thin Blue Line
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Searchers recovered the body Saturday afternoon of an off-duty Putnam County sheriff's deputy missing in the St. Johns River after being thrown overboard in a predawn boating accident Friday near Welaka.

Deputy Brandee Smith, 35, was found about 1:45 p.m. by law enforcement divers, said Capt. Joseph Wells, a spokesman for the Putnam County Sheriff's Office.

"Brandee was a loving mother of four, with her family being the center of her life," Wells said.

In respect and appreciation for her dedicated service to county residents, her Sheriff's Office co-workers placed a badge with her body, he said.

"Brandee blew us away every day with her abilities and her desire to serve the community," Wells said of Smith who joined the Sheriff's Office in 2012 -- serving as a mentor to many in the small family-oriented agency.

Wells described her as a valued member of the agency who left her mark on it and the community she served.

Wells said Smith "left her mark on all of us and we shall never forget her."

Smith disappeared in the river after being ejected from a 14-foot skiff when it struck a channel marker offshore of Sportsman Drive about 4:40 a.m. Friday as she and her boyfriend were boating. He called 911 reporting the crash and tried unsuccessfully to find her as help was en route.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the accident.

More than 150 officers from 11 local, county and federal law enforcement agencies joined the Putnam County Sheriff's Office in its mission to find and bring her home. Among them were divers and other officers from the Jacksonville, Clay, St. Johns, Flagler, Orange, Volusia and Lake County sheriff's offices, St. Augustine Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The searchers used helicopters as well as boats equipped with side-scanning sonar and personal watercraft. Officers on foot also combed the river banks. They scoured an area about three-to five miles out from the channel marker where the accident occurred.

"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,

Greg Workman, a spokesman for the fish and wildlife commission, spoke of the commitment to find Smith.

"We will never leave that site until we have some type of resolution," said Workman just a few hours before her body was found.

Located near the boat ramp into the river, the channel marker has reflectors on it but not a beacon. The river, which has a strong current, is about 18 feet deep in the area where Smith went missing but drops down to about 30 feet in nearby sections, officials have said.

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