Quarry search ends, missing person investigation continues

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Nov 20, 2019 at 9:36 PM

UNICOI — A more than 48-hour search beneath the water of an abandoned rock quarry in Unicoi came up dry Wednesday for authorities investigating the disappearance of Maple Grove Restaurant owner Lucas Vance.

After pumping out more than 25 feet of water, multiple dive searches and grid-pattern dredging, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley ended the quarry search just after 4 p.m.

Hensley said a sonar image of what appeared to be body that was picked up near the edge of the quarry on Monday afternoon turned out to be a log wedged over void space in a rock ledge on the wall of the quarry.

The sheriff said the handler of a cadaver search dog that also alerted on the quarry on Monday told him the dog could have picked up the scent of a dead animal that had been in the water for some time.

With the bottom of the quarry visible and only 4-to-5 feet of water remaining, Hensley gave the order to stop the pumps that had been draining the water since 11 a.m. on Tuesday, saying he was confident Vance was not there.

Hensley said the investigation of his Oct. 30 disappearance is ongoing, with a number of people still to be interviewed by detectives and several others who have previously spoken with investigators to be scheduled for polygraph testing.

The sheriff thanked multiple search and rescue, police, fire and EMS agencies that assisted in the search of the quarry, which he described as “quite an undertaking.”

With help from the county highway department, a small backhoe was used to set pumps on the ledge of the quarry on Tuesday morning. And when the water level dropped too low for hoses from those pumps to remove the water on Wednesday, a neighboring landowner used his equipment to clear trees and make room for a boom truck to be brought onto the ledge to lower a pump down the side of the quarry.

Hensley said people and businesses in the community also supported the search effort by bringing food to the workers who stayed overnight at the quarry.

Authorities continue to request anyone with any information that may help in the investigation of Vance’s disappearance to call the Sheriff’s Department at 423-743-1850.

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