published Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Body found on road believed to be Bledsoe County man

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PIKEVILLE, Tenn. -- A body found in White County is believed to be that of a Bledsoe County man reported missing on Aug. 1, officials say, but what happened to him remains a mystery.

White County Sheriff's Office officials say they believe the body is 45-year-old James Dewight Lathem. It was found Aug. 2 near the Memorial Highway Bridge over County House Road, five days after Lathem's car was discovered in the median of Memorial Highway with two flat tires.

Results from an autopsy are pending, and the cause of death is not yet known, White County Sheriff's Detective Chris Isom said.

Investigators do not believe foul play is involved, but they're waiting for autopsy results and input from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to be sure, Isom said, and results could take six to eight weeks.

According to authorities, Lathem was going to pick up his mother in Spencer, Tenn., but wound up several miles north of the town where his car was found on July 28.

Isom said Lathem is believed to have had medical problems, but it's unknown if that played a role.

White County authorities first were contacted about the driver they believe was Lathem when Van Buren County passed along a report of a reckless driver on state Highway 111, Isom said.

But when Lathem's car was found, it apparently had picked up two flats since leaving Van Buren County, Isom said, noting that the car's wheel rims had considerable damage but the car was not wrecked.

A caller to White County 911 said they saw a man walking along the road, but did not report that he looked injured, the detective said.

Isom said deputies and a police dog initially looked for the driver of the car but couldn't find anyone.

On Aug. 2, Lathem's family and friends went to White County and joined Sheriff Oddie Shoupe and Detective John Ford in a search for the missing man, Isom said. The body was found below the Memorial Highway Bridge in a wooded area near County House Road, he said.

Lathem was last seen July 28, according to a Bledsoe County Sheriff's Office report. A family member listed on the report could not be reached.

The report states that family members said Lathem was headed to Spencer about 9 p.m. CDT on July 28 to pick up his mother at a gas station. Once he left Bledsoe County, he wasn't seen again.

Isom said the autopsy should help clear up the mystery.

"We're not wanting to leave any stone unturned so that, down the road, we can answer any questions the family may have," he said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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