published Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Father wants full story on Jimmy Hess drowning in Chickamauga Lake

Billie Hess, right, hugs Jennifer Brauch Friday near the Chickamauga Dam marina. Hess' son, Jimmy Hess, had been missing since he fell from a sailboat Tuesday, but his body was recovered.
Billie Hess, right, hugs Jennifer Brauch Friday near the Chickamauga Dam marina. Hess' son, Jimmy Hess, had been missing since he fell from a sailboat Tuesday, but his body was recovered.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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    Jimmy Hess was missing after falling from a sailboat near the Chickamauga Dam. Contributed Photo

While the Hamilton County medical examiner's report shows Jimmy Hess drowned accidentally, his father doesn't think that's the whole story.

"I don't think he 'just drowned.' He was on the water a lot, and he was a very good swimmer," said 80-year-old Billie Hess. "There were three other people there who could have helped him."

Jimmy Hess, 37, drowned in Chickamauga Lake near Gold Point Marina after falling off a sailboat on June 14 death, according to police reports. He did not surface until three days later, when a recovery team pulled him from the water.

The three other people on the boat at the time were Robert Boyd, Julie West and Shawn Russell -- who owns the boat, according to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency investigator Brian Letner, who just finished wrapping up the initial investigation into the case.

TWRA investigators plan to meet with the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office this week to discuss the possibility of pressing charges in the case, Letner said. There are conflicting stories about what happened on the sailboat that night, he explained.

According to notes from the initial call to dispatch, witnesses reported that two men had been fighting aboard a sailboat and that both went overboard sometime after 4 a.m. One man surfaced; Hess -- a father of three -- did not.

The group tried searching for Hess for more than an hour before calling police, reports show.

When they finally called police, dispatchers reported that they were intoxicated and disoriented, unable to clearly communicate what had happened, which delayed emergency responders from finding their exact location for almost another hour.

Two days later, Jimmy's former boss Bryan McClure -- who had formed his own search team on the water -- found the drowned man in the same vicinity as where the boaters called 911 for help, noted Letner.

Boyd, West and Russell could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Toxicology results show that Jimmy Hess had alcohol in his system, Letner said. He said he could not release the toxicology results for the other three.

According to the medical examiner's report, there was no significant acute external trauma to Jimmy Hess' body.

Billie Hess said he and his family have never heard anything from the other three boaters about what happened that night.

"This thing is all messed up," he said. "I'm aware that he could have been drinking, but I don't think that's the only thing that led to him drowning."

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