Sheriff Richie Simmons of Davidson County has apologized for an investigator's conduct after human remains were found inside a SUV that was pulled from the Yadkin River on Oct. 1.
Simmons identified the remains Wednesday as Nicholas Alexander Allen, 17, of Lexington, who was last seen driving the SUV on Feb. 20 and was reported missing.
The sheriff’s office hasn’t learned Allen’s cause of death yet from the autopsy that was conducted on his body, Simmons said.
Authorities were called to the York Hill Boating Access earlier this month to investigate after divers with Oregon's Adventures with Purpose team found a vehicle submerged in about 10 feet of water in the river, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office said.
In a video posted to the diving group's YouTube page, a woman is heard saying she begged authorities to check the river. An unnamed officer, who was called to the scene and appears at around the 33-minute mark in the group's video, replied that the river had been checked several times.
He also tells divers that moving obstacles and pulling the vehicle from the water is going to be a problem because "the county just built this."
He appears to tell the divers on the scene that it was problematic because the sheriff's office knew nothing about the operation.
Divers with Davidson and Rowan rescue teams and emergency-services employees later removed the vehicle from the river.
Simmons posted his apology Tuesday on the Facebook page of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office.
In his statement, Simmons apologized to the family of Nicholas Allen, the Adventures with Purpose Team and Davidson County residents. The Adventures with Purpose Team of Bend, Ore., is a group of divers who find submerged vehicles across the country.
On Oct. 1, the Adventures with Purpose team was called to the York Hill Boating Access areas by Allen's family members, Simmons said.
"The family requested this group from Oregon due to their expertise in diving and the fact that they have completed a number of recoveries in past dives," the sheriff said. "Adventures with Purpose’s divers entered the river and located a 'crossover' style vehicle bearing the matching license plate of the vehicle in which Nick was last known to be operating."
The divers removed the license plate from the submerged vehicle and presented the license plate to Allen's family, Simmons said.
"It was then confirmed that license plate belonged to the Dodge Journey last operated by Allen," the sheriff said. Adventures with Purpose members then contacted Davidson County Communications, and deputies were called to the scene.
"The response from the investigator with the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office was not empathetic or kind to the family of Nick (Allen), and also was not welcoming or appreciative to Adventures with Purpose," Simmons said. "Please know that the interaction you had with our investigator does not represent how we train our officers, and his actions are not in accordance with our expectations.
"There are no excuses for this type of behavior, and we will work tirelessly to ensure this type of behavior is never repeated by another member from this office under my administration," Simmons said. "We send our deepest sympathies to the family of Nick Allen. We are so very sorry for your loss and please know that we will do better in our interactions with grieving families in the future."
The sheriff's office is grateful to the Adventures with Purpose Team "for bringing closure to Nick’s family," Simmons said.
Simmons decided to post the apology because the investigator with the sheriff's office didn't act professionally in his interaction with Allen's family, Simmons said. The sheriff's office is investigating that incident.
The sheriff declined to identify the investigator or reveal his rank. The investigator still works with the sheriff's office, he said.
"I'm not going to put up with that," Simmons said of the investigator's conduct. "We are going to take corrective actions."
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