New Clues Revealed in Disappearance of Nashville Surgeon

October 10, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Sheriff Patrick Ray and TWRA Officer Nick Luper
Dr. William Coltharp

The Nashville surgeon who went missing while kayaking on Center Hill Lake over a week ago remains missing but new clues have been revealed by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and TWRA that may shed more light on the case.

In a press conference Monday afternoon at the Hurricane bridge recreation area, Sheriff Patrick Ray and TWRA Officer Nick Luper updated local and Nashville media on the search and the investigation.

Sheriff Ray said the disappearance of Dr. William Coltharp is still considered a "missing person" case and no foul play is suspected. But could it have been a suicide? Officials can't say for sure because no body has been recovered. But an empty handgun case belonging to Dr. Coltharp was found last Monday near the Hurricane boat ramp and a witness came forward on Friday to report that he had seen a man on Sunday evening, October 2 loading a cylinder concrete block onto a kayak with him before paddling down stream.

In his update to the media, Sheriff Ray read from the following prepared statement: " 55 year old Dr. William Hubert Coltharp of Tyne Boulevard, Nashville left his residence in Nashville at approximately 4:00 p.m. enroute to Center Hill Lake to kayak."

"Dr. Coltharp went to Hurricane boat ramp on Sunday evening, October 2. There have been two independent witnesses that have confirmed that Dr. Coltharp arrived at the Hurricane boat ramp by himself at approximately 6:00 p.m. We have also confirmed by other sources such as cell towers where he had used his cell phone that Dr. Coltharp was in this area. A witness stated that he had spoken to Dr. Coltharp. The doctor was last seen on Center Hill Lake on the west side of Hurricane bridge".

"Sometime after midnight on Monday, October 3, Dr. Coltharp's wife left Nashville enroute to Center Hill Lake. She did not know the exact location that Dr. Coltharp had launched his kayak but was somewhat familiar with that area of Floating Mill and the Hurricane Marina. While enroute to DeKalb County, she contacted law enforcement about her husband being missing. She was directed to the dispatch center for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. She talked with a TWRA officer and eventually found her husband's vehicle, a 1999 White Chevy Suburban, in the parking lot of Hurricane boat ramp. DeKalb Central Dispatch was notified at 1:22 a.m. by TWRA about the missing man. Deputies from the DeKalb Sheriff's Department arrived on the scene at 1:44 a.m. Monday morning, October 3. Neither Dr. Coltharp nor his kayak were anywhere to be found.",

"At approximately 2:30 a.m. a search was started for Dr. Coltharp. At approximately 5:00 a.m., an upside down kayak, which contained a life jacket, was found which is believed to be Dr. Coltharp's kayak. A paddle was found further down stream later that day. An Apple MacBook laptop computer was also found in the kayak's storage box. The computer was soaked in water but was retrieved from the kayak and has since been sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Crime Lab to see if any information can be retrieved from it. The kayak was found approximately one mile from the Hurricane boat ramp".

"Later that same morning (Monday, October 3), at approximately 9:40 a.m., a worker who is contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was working at the Hurricane boat ramp and found a handgun case as he was changing out garbage bags. There was no handgun inside the case. Through an investigation, the handgun case was found to belong to Dr. Coltharp."

"On Friday evening, October 7, authorities confirmed through a witness that Dr. Coltharp arrived at the lake right before dark (Sunday, October 2) and was seen loading a cylinder concrete block onto the kayak with him. He then paddled in the direction where the kayak was later found".

"The only thing we have in our investigation are facts and these are the facts of the case. There is no evidence that points towards foul play. Its only a missing person report at this time and it will continue to be until we find the body or find him," said Sheriff Ray.

Although Coltharp's kayak, life jacket, a pair of kayak gloves, computer and gun case have been recovered, authorities have not found the keys to Dr. Coltharp's SUV or his cell phone. As for the gun case, Sheriff Ray said authorities have confirmed that Dr. Coltharp owns a handgun and the serial numbers match those on the gun case.

TWRA Officer Luper said the search for Dr. Coltharp will continue throughout the week, if needed. The general area of the search is about a mile downstream of the Hurricane boat ramp, in about sixty feet of water. "Part of our search has involved dragging the bottom of the lake. We did a lot of that in the beginning stages. Earlier on in the week we didn't have a definite location of where we might could look or where the accident might have taken place. So we didn't have a good location. We had a wide spread search. On Friday night, we had a pretty good witness come to us and confirm for us where he had last seen Mr. Coltharp. That helped us to really hone in on a particular area that we're still searching at. As of today (Monday) we have still not located Mr. Coltharp. The Nashville Office of Emergency Management is out here today with a towfish which is a type of sonar. They continue to search today into the afternoon. If you know anything about this lake there are lots of objects on the bottom of this lake, trees, logs, different things so anytime we come across an image that's of interest to us, we'll usually send a diver down to confirm that. We've done that a few times this week. Even throughout the rest of this week there will be some type of search. We're not sure at what capacity at this time but there will be a search that will continue the rest of this week, " said TWRA Officer Luper

"This has been quite an extensive search throughout the entire week beginning during the late hours of Sunday night and early Monday morning and we've had a lot of folks here from various agencies. There's a lot of folks I believe need to be commended for being here especially the DeKalb County Rescue Squad. They have been here throughout the entire search. They've put in a lot of tireless hours. They've come from work and come before work. Some have even missed work to be here to participate in this search. These guys are all volunteers and they really need to be commended for being here. We've had a lot of folks from surrounding counties who have also participated in the search. They have come at different times throughout the week. I want to thank all those folks who came. All the rescue squads. The cadaver dog bloodhound groups that came to help us out. They deserve to be commended for that. On behalf of all the rescue workers, I would like to thank St. Thomas Hospital for donating all the food and water. Its really kept everybody going this week. It was very generous of them to do that. Its really helped in our search," said Officer Luper.

Sheriff Ray also released a prepared statement from the Coltharp family. In it, the family states " The Coltharp family would like to express our deepest appreciation for the search and rescue efforts led by the Smithville/DeKalb County Rescue Squad to locate Will Coltharp".

"The Smithville/DeKalb County Rescue Squad, led by Director Dustin Johnson, has requested and received assistance from Coffee, Cannon, Jackson, Warren, and White Counties, the City of Smyrna, the United Auto Workers of Nashville, members of the Bloodhound Search and Rescue Group, the Nashville Office of Emergency Management, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency".

"Furthermore, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency has been here everyday and actively worked in the search".

"Finally, the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office, led by Sheriff Patrick Ray, has worked in an extraordinary and professional manner to keep us up to date".

"We very much appreciate the efforts of St. Thomas Hospital, Nashville residents, local merchants, friends and concerned people who provided food and coffee to the volunteers and family".

"The efforts of everyone in the community, to support us in the search, will be a memory remembered by all of us".

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