Monroe County K-9 officer drowns chasing suspect

Vigor (source: Monroe County Sheriff's Office)
Vigor (source: Monroe County Sheriff's Office)
Vigor (source: Monroe County Sheriff’s Office)

MADISONVILLE (WATE) – A suspect the pursuit of whom resulted in the drowning of a Monroe County K-9 officer is now in custody.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is mourning one of their own after their K-9 officer Vigor was swept away in a raging river.

According to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Vigor drowned in the Tellico River while he and his handler were tracking wanted suspect Doug Ellis in the Cherokee National Forest on Wednesday. They were near Tellico Plains.

Vigor’s handler, Sgt. BJ Johnson, proudly and emotionally showed WATE 6 On Your Side the 9-year-old Dutch shepherd’s excellent record tracking down suspects.

Both Johnson and Vigor served in the Iraq war. Johnson says he’s still dealing with a lot of guilt and sorrow over what happened.

“I wish I could have done it over, but that’s life,” he said, with tears in his eyes.

Doug Ellis (source: Monroe County Sheriff's Office)
Doug Ellis (source: Monroe County Sheriff’s Office)

He says it was late at night when a group officers had spent hours looking for Ellis in the forest. They reached the Tellico River when everything happened in a few quick seconds.

“I slipped, and when I did, he took off. I took after him. The water was too strong as we were fighting it. As I was pulling him, I was making it worse for him. So I let him go and I figured he would make it to the other side. So I let him go,” he explained.

After years of training and bonding, Johnson survived, but Vigor did not.

“I’ve just had a really bad day. I’ve had a lot of good days,” Johnson said, emotionally.

Ellis was captured Friday night at the home of his father Jerry Ellis. Both were arrested.

Investigators say Ellis has been in prison before. That time, an officer was injured during a chase in a similar story.

“They had to run him down for a month or so. And when they apprehended him, it was the same circumstances,” explained Chief Deputy Randy White, with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

Ellis was wanted for violation of probation. He was on probation for kidnapping, aggravated assault and evading arrest.

It’s a loss that leaves a void in crime fighting, and in their hearts.

“I guess I want to go like him. Doing what I loved to do,” Johnson said.

Condolences may be sent to:

Sgt. BJ Johnson
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
319 Hickory Street
Madisonville, TN 37354

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