BY KEN LITTLE
The wait is over for the family of Nahum Martinez.
The body of a man believed to be Martinez was found late Monday night floating under tree branches along the shore of the Nolichuckey River, about a half-mile downriver from where he was last seen June 12.
The body was found about 11:45 p.m. Monday by Sammy Bird, a lifetime Rescue Squad member who was searching the river in a private boat.
Martinez, 25, of Bandy Road, could not swim. He had gone to the river with family members and was last seen as he stepped out on a sandbar in the river near Birds Bridge Road.
Martinez was last seen "wading in the river on a sand bar just above the Birds Bridge. Witnesses saw him go beneath the water surface and never resurface," a sheriff's department report said.
Martinez was the subject of an intensive search effort over the last 13 days led by the Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad.
The constantly shifting river bottom contains deep pools, tree limbs and other obstructions, said sheriff's Lt. Wesley Holt, who is also a Rescue Squad member. Various methods used by searchers failed to locate Martinez' body.
A wrecker from Malone's Wrecker Service was used Sunday to remove a tree lodged in a bridge abutment near where Martinez went in the water, Holt said.
"He could have been (under) there, and he could have been in one of the whirlpools where the water just churns and shot him out. You never know. Only the man above knows," Holt said.
The body was brought to the boat ramp on a boat and loaded into a transport van and taken from the scene, a sheriff's department report said.
Martinez' family had kept a silent vigil by the riverside as the rescue operation gradually turned into a recovery effort. A man who acted as interpreter for the victim's family was contacted late Monday after the body was found.
"Sammy Bird called and told me what we had and I immediately called the interpreter," Ayers said.
The body had been in the water for 12 days.
An autopsy will be performed today at the Quillen School of Medicine at East Tennessee State University, Holt said.
Authorities hope the body will be positively identified as Martinez at the autopsy.
"We knew we had the body. There was nobody else we were looking for," Ayers said.
Searchers had concentrated their efforts near the boat ramp area where Martinez went into the water.
"He was found downriver from where he went in, about a half-mile to three-quarters of a mile down from where he went in past the boat ramp," Ayers said.
Rescue Squad members and volunteers from other organizations spent hundreds of man-hours searching for Martinez in hot, humid and sometimes rainy weather.
"Everybody wants closure and it takes its toll on you. You're in there day in and day out and you want to find the body for the family and it's stressful," Holt said. "We've got a lot of good volunteers that put in a lot of time."
Holt said he spoke with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency about posting a sign warning visitors about the unstable conditions in the river near Birds Bridge.
"They're working on that to get some signs posted out there. I think it's a good idea," he said.
Swimmers need to exercise caution in the Nolichuckey River, Holt said.
"Rivers are unpredictable. You've got your dips and your swirls and your undercurrents that can cause you real problems when you're out there swimming," he said.
Ayers appreciates the efforts of the rescue agencies that participated in the search for Martinez.
"It brings closure to us. Everybody wants to bring the family that closure," Ayers said. "We get so involved and we bring in so many resources and ideas. Once we have made that recovery, I guess, that chapter closes in the book."