BR firefighter’s body found in Belle River

Jacob Lewis
Jacob Lewis

Rescue workers from several agencies on Thursday recovered the body of missing Baton Rouge firefighter Jacob Lewis about 2 miles from where he was last seen by his wife more than three weeks ago at the Belle River boat launch on the Intracoastal Canal.

Adam Einck, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which coordinated the search with the St. Martin Parish and Assumption Parish sheriff’s offices, confirmed Lewis’ body had been found.

Assumption Sheriff Mike Waguespack said his office received a call at about noon Thursday from a worker at Settoon Dock Services, which is about 2 miles down river from where Lewis disappeared on Jan. 30, regarding a body floating in the canal.

Waguespack said about 90 minutes later, officials from Wildlife and Fisheries, the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office and the St. Martin Parish Coroner’s Office pulled Lewis’ body from the Intracoastal Canal, near the town of Belle River.

Lewis was identified based on the driver’s license found on the body and the clothing description from his wife, Jennifer Branch Lewis, the sheriff said.

Waguespack also said there were no obvious wounds or trauma to Lewis’ body.

The sheriff said he believes an uncle was on the dock when they pulled Lewis’ body from the canal.

Other family members were notified of the discovery, Waguespack said.

Volunteers from Texas and Michigan also assisted in the search, Einck said in a news release.

Search crews utilized sonar, dive teams, cadaver dogs, and aerial and surface search techniques during the search, Einck said.

Daniel Branch, father of Jennifer Lewis, said Jacob Lewis was a good man who treated his daughter well.

Branch also said felt badly for Jacob Lewis’ parents.

“I’m very glad that they found him so we can have some closure on the situation,” Branch said.

Branch said his daughter would not be available for comment because of health issues.

Shane Spillman, president of the Baton Rouge Association of Firefighters Local 557, said more than 100 firefighters from the Baton Rouge Fire Department, as well as firefighters from the Central, Eastside and St. George fire departments, traveled to Belle River on their off days to assist in the search.

“It’s been tiring on us because our guys have been down there so much on their days off, not to say worn down, but it’s been tiring,” Spillman said.

Spillman said he heard about the recovery from Waguespack and when he heard the news, his initial reaction was the hope that Lewis’ family, whom a lot of the firefighters became close to during the search, could find closure.

“It went on for 22 days — that is a long time to look for somebody — and the healing process can start moving forward from this point,” Spillman said. “This is something we’ve never dealt with at the fire department, having to look for a body for 22 days, especially for one of our own.”

The search for Lewis, though scaled back, had been ongoing since he disappeared.

Lewis, 28, of Walker, had gone out with his wife to scout areas to set crawfish traps and was reported missing shortly after returning to the boat launch, authorities have said.

Lewis backed the couple’s truck down the boat ramp to attach the boat to the trailer, authorities have said, but after awhile, his wife noticed the boat adrift and Lewis trying to swim, hollering for her to call 911.

Lewis’ body was taken to the St. Martin Parish Coroner’s Office, Einck said, adding that he is not sure if a cause of death has been determined.

Calls to the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office were not returned Thursday afternoon.

Spillman said the family has not announced any details on the funeral arrangements, but he said members of the Baton Rouge Fire Department Honor Guard will participate in the truck procession, and any department that wants to place a truck in the procession is welcome to do so.