A team of divers from the Ashland Fire Department traveled to Pike County this weekend to assist authorities there in the search for a missing teenager’s body.

Emergency workers in Pike County have been scouring the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River and the main river for more than nine weeks looking for the body of 19-year-old Joshua Jerome Tessmer, of Green Meadows. Tessmer is believed to have drowned after falling into the river behind his home in early January.

According to The Appalachian News Express, the teen was last seen the afternoon of Jan. 8 by his father. Tessmer’s hat was found on the shore as well as other evidence suggesting he fell into the river, the newspaper reported. Alcohol is believed to have been a factor in the teen’s death but no foul play is suspected.

Four members of the AFD’s dive team were asked to join the search this weekend because of their ice water certification, said Doug Tackett, director of Pike County Emergency Management. He said the water temperature of the river has hovered in the 30s for weeks preventing the Millard East-Shelbiana Volunteer Fire Department’s own team from entering the water. The Millard-East Shelbiana team does not have the gear or certification to make the dives, Tackett said.

Saturday’s search was hampered, however, by rain and rising water levels. The swift current prevented Ashland divers from entering the water, Tackett said.

“We’ve had to fight Mother Nature on this one ever since we started and Mother Nature hasn’t given us too much cooperation,” he said.

Had the weather cooperated, Tackett said the divers would have been asked to search an area of the river where a team of cadaver dogs from the Kentucky Search Dog Association have expressed interest.

Ashland Capt. Scott Boyd said the particular spot is a deep hole with some large boulders where the body could have become lodged. He said the team decided not to dive it because the current was too swift from rising water levels and it was simply too dangerous.

Boyd said the team may return to Pike County to make another attempt later this week if Pike officials again request mutual aid.

“We’ll help anybody on this stuff. They just have to call and make requests through the Chief’s office. We’re always willing to attempt to make a dive. We’re always willing to help,” he said.

Recovering Tessmer’s body is important to help the family find closure, Tackett said.

“I think they’ve accepted the fact that he is gone,” he said. “They really want to have the body so they can have closure. One of the reasons we continue on is because of the water temperature, if he’s on the bottom he’s going to stay there. We’re not going to stop until it gets warmer and he’s had ample time to come to the surface.”

Recovery efforts have been concentrated on the river within eight miles of Tessmer’s entry point because of the cold water and sharp bends in the river, Tackett said. In cold water, drowning victims tend to sink and stay near the bottom. He said the idea is to find the body before the water temperature rises and it becomes more likely that gases released by decomposition cause it to float to the surface and be washed downstream.

Tackett said teams of rescuers from across Pike County and all of eastern Kentucky have assisted the local department.

“Kentucky should be proud of their responders whether they are volunteer or paid,” he said. “We have some great people in emergency services. We’ve had them on the river and we’ve been on the river with them with snow flying and temperatures below 20 degrees — it’s been absolutely blistering cold and they hang in there and work.”

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com.

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