Five days after the body of a missing Iuka man was found along an inlet of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge said his department is close to finishing its investigation.
Robert Paul Martindale, 55, was found dead Saturday at a boat dock on Bud Price Road in eastern Lowndes County, and according to Arledge, foul play is not suspected in the death.
“We are pretty close to winding this investigation up,” Arledge said. “There are some investigators still speaking with family members, but we have no reason to believe it’s anything other than an accidental drowning or a possible suicide. (Martindale) was pretty much homeless, and he reportedly suffered with depression, so we haven’t ruled out his death as being a suicide.”
Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant said Martindale died from freshwater drowning.
“I think he may have been in the river for the whole month of January,” he said. “With the water temperature being what it was, he was hung up pretty far down in the river. There was also evidence that his body had moved with the current. His vehicle was first seen on Dec. 23 near the Bigbee Loop, and his body was found approximately four miles from where his vehicle was seen.”
Bigbee Loop is near Ruben’s Fish and Steak House on Moore’s Creek Road where there is access to the old Tombigee River bed, which ties into the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
With recent temperatures, if Martindale accidentally fell into the water, it wouldn’t have taken long for him to become disoriented, said Joseph Ponder, water safety coordinator for the Tenn-Tom Waterway Management Center.
“Body thermal conductivity in water is 26 times faster than when exposed to air,” he said, which means “cold water will cool your body 26 times faster than if just exposed to the air.”
In 50-degree water, it would take “15 minutes before incapacity and/or unconsciousness with a life jacket on,” he added. Without a life jacket, “50-degree water equals nine minutes before incapacity or unconsciousness.”
Martindale was not wearing a life jacket, according to Merchant. During the week Martindale disappeared, area water temperatures were 50 degrees or below, Ponder said.
Martindale’s Ford Explorer was reported as a suspicious vehicle to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 8, three days before a missing person’s report was filed by his family in Tishomingo County, and the vehicle was towed to the county impound.
“What people need to know is that Mr. Martindale spent more time in Lowndes County than he did here,” Tishomingo County Sheriff Glenn Whitlock said. “He was a truck driver and stayed gone. Most people didn’t even know he had an address in Tishomingo County. His family first contacted the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department about his disappearance, but since his last known address was listed here, we filed the missing person’s report.”
Arledge said members of Martindale’s family acknowledged it was not uncommon for him to disappear for weeks at a time.
“We were hoping that would be the case, that he would be out and about and he would just show up,” Arledge said.
Martindale’s body was discovered by Joe Fondren who owns a camp house on Bud Price Road. According to his neighbors, Fondren was walking around his property when he found the body wedged between his boat dock and the shore.
On Wednesday, the boat dock was locked, and a wreath of flowers was placed on its gate.
Merchant said Martindale’s family is in the process of making burial arrangements.