January 4, 2018
By: Dwayne Page
Unless new evidence surfaces, apparently no further investigation will be conducted by local or state officials into the death of a woman on Center Hill Lake in July 2015.
After being asked by District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reviewed the file in the death of 21 year old Lauren Agee but has not conducted any further investigation in the case. The DeKalb County Sheriff’s department probe concluded that Agee was the victim of an accidental death.
Agee had reportedly been enjoying an outing with friends known as “Wakefest” at Pates Ford Marina in July 2015 and was camping near the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the lake prior to the tragedy. Investigators believe that Agee fell from the cliff into the water resulting in her death. Several hours later Agee’s body was found in the water by a fisherman near Still Point Boat Ramp across from Pates Ford Marina. A subsequent autopsy determined the death to be accidental.
Agee’s mother, Sherry Smith refused to accept the findings of the investigation telling a Nashville television station that she believed her daughter had been murdered.
In a prepared statement released today (Thursday), Sheriff Patrick Ray said while he favored another review of the case, his department has turned up no new evidence to support any indication of foul play in Agee’s death.
“In the last few months, District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway and I have talked about reopening the Lauren Agee case for review. Neither the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department nor the District Attorney General’s Office has obtained any factual information about the case since the case was closed as an accident”.
“I have not only agreed with reopening the case for review, I have encouraged it. My department has already, and will continue, to give any available resources that my department has to the District Attorney General’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, or any other Local, State and Federal Departments who want to look into not only this incident, but any other incident my department investigates”.
In a letter to Sheriff Ray received today (January 4), D.A. Dunaway wrote that “As you know, this office previously reviewed your department’s investigative case file regarding the death of Ms. Lauren Agee. As you are aware, I also requested the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to review your department’s file as well requesting that they advise me if they opine that any further investigative efforts would be helpful at this time. After careful consideration, I am requesting the investigation be closed”.
“There appears to be insufficient evidence to charge anyone with criminal responsibility for the death of Ms. Lauren Agee. Of course, if new evidence or information is discovered, the investigation can be reopened,” wrote D.A. Dunaway.
In a statement released in March 2017, Sheriff Ray said that through the investigation, it was found that Agee and her friends had been camping atop a narrow bluff across from Pates Ford Marina, where Lauren and another individual had tied their hammock. The body was found face-down in the water in slough behind the bluff where Agee’s hammock was found”.
“The medical examiners autopsy report concluded Agee’s death was accidental with the cause of death determined as “multiple blunt force injuries”.
The pathologist further informed the investigating detective that Agee’s injuries were consistent with a fall. The autopsy report further showed multiple injuries to the back of her head, spine, and back, and that drowning was a possible contributing factor to her death,” the statement continued.
Another review was later conducted by the family’s independent pathologist which reportedly found that Agee’s larynx was crushed. Smith told a Nashville TV station last year that she believes her daughter had been choked.
“As far as being choked, as a family member has claimed, the photographs taken during this investigation show no marks or bruising around Lauren’s neck, and the medical examiner’s report supports the detective’s findings. The medical examiner’s report stated the larynx was not crushed, but was intact,” said Sheriff Ray in his written statement last March.
Although he has no jurisdiction in DeKalb County, at least one off duty White County officer who apparently worked as private security for the marina that weekend has also questioned the results of the investigation. He raised the issue that an autopsy photo apparently showed an imprint on Agee’s midsection that could be the outline of the bow or stern of a canoe suggesting that Agee’s body may have been placed on a canoe after her death.
Sheriff Ray refuted the allegation stating that the imprint is identical to a TWRA boat storage lid where Agee’s body was placed face down during transport to the boat ramp.
“TWRA officers assisted the sheriff’s department detectives in loading the body onto a TWRA boat to transport the body back to the boat ramp. The body was placed face down on the side of one of the TWRA boats,” stated Sheriff Ray.
“There has been some question concerning a photograph taken by a DeKalb Sheriff’s Department detective, on the TWRA boat, showing a resemblance of a canoe mark on Lauren’s chest. After examining the photographs taken before transporting the body to the boat ramp, our investigation determined this mark is an identical match to the TWRA boat storage locker lid where the body was placed facedown during transport to the boat ramp,” Sheriff Ray stated.
“Lauren’s body was taken directly to the hospital in Smithville where investigators conducted further examination and made additional photographs of the body. The body was examined and photographed again. The photographs taken at the hospital did not show the storage locker lid imprint on Lauren’s chest,” Sheriff Ray continued.
“The body was then taken to Nashville to the state medical examiner’s office. Again, Lauren’s body was photographed and did not show any marks on her chest that resembled the claimed “canoe” mark,” he said.
Smith wants to know why Lauren’s friends at the campsite with her never reported her missing or contacted the family immediately after her disappearance. In 2016 she filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against them which remains pending in court.