Staff photo by Mark Pace/Chattanooga Times Free Press — Marty Dunn, left, a Hamilton County Sheriff's Office special operations detective, prepares a drone to help in the search of a missing Cleveland man on the Ocoee River Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Polk County deputies Casey Hickman and Manuel Patterson, from left, also assist.

This story was updated Wednesday, May 29, 2019, at 9:44 a.m. with information about the identification of the body.

UPDATE: The 26-year-old Cleveland man who drowned in the Ocoee River near the whitewater center has been identified as Rondez J. Mee, according to Polk County Sheriff Steve Ross.

Mee was walking along the river Monday evening and slipped in at approximately 7 p.m., according to Ross. His friends tried to rescue him but were unable to get him out of the water. 

Rescuers found his body at about 4 p.m. Tuesday approximately 250 yards from where he fell in the river. 


The body of a 26-year-old Cleveland man who went missing after falling in the Ocoee River in Polk County, Tennessee, was found Tuesday. He was about 150 yards downstream from where he fell in, authorities said.

The man was standing on the bank when he slipped and fell into the river Monday afternoon. His name will be released after his family has been notified, Polk County Sheriff Steve Ross said.

"He was putting his shoes on and slipped and fell in," Polk County EMA Director Steve Lofty said. "He was last seen there at the large hole behind the whitewater center."

On Monday, search teams conducted "a systematic search" on both sides of the river downstream from where the man fell, he said. Divers and others searched the water while additional crews searched along the banks.

Lofty said he believed the first report came in around 5:15 p.m. Monday and more manpower was called to the scene a couple of hours later.

"We had about 50 boots on the ground," he said.

The search went well into the night and early morning hours, but the Tennessee Valley Authority needed to spill water for six to eight hours to maintain the river system. The search was called off for the night at about 3 a.m., according to Ross and Lofty.

"The water was running at full force at 4 a.m.," Lofty said.

As rescue crews resumed their search Tuesday morning, the TVA dropped water levels to help the crew in the search. Responders mobilized shortly after 11 a.m. with dive teams, a drone team, and other search and rescue personnel.

Tuesday's rescue overlapped some of the search area from Monday, but emergency responders believed improved visibility in the daytime would give them a better chance of finding the missing man, Ross said.

During the week, commercial rafting operations don't usually use the section of the Ocoee where the search is being conducted, officials said. The search area will be closed to recreational users during the search.

"This is our sixth water rescue in 90 days," Lofty said. "We've had three fatalities so far."

East Polk Fire & Rescue led the response.

Wolf Creek, West Polk Fire & Rescue, the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Hiwassee Dam Fire Department, Bradley dive team, Valley Town Fire & Rescue, the U.S. Forest Service, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and American Medical Response also responded.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at

Contact Mark Pace at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.