Firefighters find body of missing man near Lock 7

Published 3:51 pm Friday, May 29, 2020

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Searchers recovered the body of a man Monday morning who had been missing on the Kentucky River near High Bridge since early Thursday evening.

Jessamine County EMS Director Johnny Adams said the man was found a short distance downstream from Lock 7, where he went in.

County Coroner Michael Hughes’ office said the victim is Elder Ariel Martinez-Palma, 29, of Lexington. He was originally from Guatemala and worked at the Keeneland Race Course.

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He was pronounced dead at 11:20 a.m., and his body was sent to the state medical examiner in Frankfort for an autopsy. Hughes said the apparent cause of death was drowning, and there is no suspicion of foul play.

Although he had been presumed deceased since Thursday night and some friends and relatives knew, authorities delayed identifying him until they could try to notify his family in Guatemala.

Capt. Danny Eades of Jessamine County Fire and Rescue said Friday that Martinez-Palma had been with some friends near the lock and dam when he went into the water and was swept away by the swift current. Another man went into the river to try to rescue him, but was unsuccessful. That man was rescued downstream.

County firefighters and other responders got the call from a dispatcher at 6:10 p.m. They searched the river until dark and made the determination late that night to reclassify the search from a rescue to a recovery. Chaplains met with family members.

Friday at 8 a.m., the search resumed, but firefighters had to clear the scene because of a fire at Mount Freedom Baptist Church in Wilmore. It then began again and continued all weekend and into Monday morning, when the victim was found.

Adams said evidence indicated Martinez-Palma went into the river above the dam, although there were conflicting reports that he went in below it.

Adams said he was part of a group of friends who were relaxing and fishing near the lock and dam.

“He took off all his clothes and jumped in the water,” Adams said. “He was the only one who went in, and he got swept downstream. They saw him bobbing up and down, but they lost sight of him just below the lock and dam.”

Adams said first responders had done a ground search along the river bank and used sonar as well as hooks and lines to search underwater and two cadaver dogs to help with the search.

The search extended two or three miles from the dam to Brooklyn Bridge on Harrodsburg Road (U.S. 68), but mostly concentrated on the area below the dam where he was last seen.

Several other agencies were involved in the effort, including Woodford County Emergency Management, Jessamine, Woodford, Mercer and Anderson county fire departments, Wilmore, Nicholasville and Lexington fire departments, Jessamine County EMS, the Jessamine County Sheriff’s Office, Nicholasville Police Department, Commonwealth Dog Association, and the Kentucky

Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has jurisdiction of the operation on the water.

he fast-moving water above and below the dam probably made it hard for the man to swim. Adams said the river is normally about 12 feet in that area, but because of recent heavy rains and flooding, had risen to about 17 feet in the area around the dam by Friday.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at

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