2:30 p.m. update:
A jacket believed to be the coat that 2-year-old Emma Sweet was wearing while in her father’s truck was recovered from the East Fork White River at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday, after it was found caught on a tree branch in the water.
Three local men, John Grider, Brandon McFarlane and Joshua Gale, all of Columbus, said they went out to help search the riverbanks on Saturday, starting out at the nearby rock quarry and traveling toward Southern Crossing, where they saw the coat in the river, caught on a tree branch.
They were unable to grab the coat with another tree branch and then called 911. The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s airboat was dispatched and the coat was picked up and placed into evidence. The jacket was about a mile downstream from where Sweet’s Ford F-150 was found submerged in about 3- to 4-feet of water at 6 a.m. Friday. Emma’s unstrapped car seat was found in the truck.
The girl has not been found although the search effort is continuing, Sheriff Matt Myers said.
Investigators did talk with Emma’s father, Jeremy Sweet, 39, of 1415 N. County Road 850E, at Columbus Regional Hospital on Saturday, and he gave them another version of what happened, Myers said.
Sweet told detectives that he was in the truck in the river and Emma was with him, Myers said.
“We can’t say that this is 100%, but it is looking more like she was in the water with him,” Myers said.
When Sweet was asked where he last saw Emma, he told detectives he had fallen asleep and when he woke up, she was gone.
For more on this story, see Sunday’s Republic.
Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputies and other police agencies searched all day Friday for a missing 2-year old girl after her father was found shirtless in freezing temperatures in a partially submerged Ford F150 pickup truck in the East Fork White River along with an empty child’s car seat.
As each minute passes in the search for missing 2-year-old Emma Sweet, who may have been in the submerged truck with her father, it becomes more likely the rescue mission will become a recovery effort, said Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers about the multi-agency search along East Fork White River southwest of Columbus.
About 25 first-responders, including rotating shifts of divers, searched for the little girl Friday in a remote area about two miles southwest of the Columbus City Garage on Kreutzer Drive, Myers said.
Neither Emma nor her father, Jeremy Sweet, 39, of 1415 N. County Road 850E had been seen since noon on Wednesday. Family members reported both of them missing on Thursday, Thanksgiving day, saying they were last seen in Sweet’s truck.
At about 6 a.m. Friday, duck hunters on the East Fork White River found Jeremy Sweet’s newer-model Ford F-150 pickup truck partially submerged in 3 to 5 feet of water, Myers said.
Evidence indicates Sweet drove straight off a 15- to 20-foot embankment far west of Beatty Lane before the truck hit the water, Myers said. An unstrapped child’s safety seat was found inside the truck, which had all its windows open when investigators arrived, he said.
Sweet was shirtless when discovered inside the truck in the freezing Friday morning temperatures, and was suffering from hypothermia and frostbite when taken to shore by the hunters, Myers said. He was only semi-conscious when an ambulance transported him to Columbus Regional Hospital, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit.
In his original statement to investigators, Sweet said he had dropped off his daughter at “Casey’s,” which is the name of a convenience and gas store at the corner of State Street and Gladstone Avenue.
Investigators do not know if he actually meant the convenience store, or if it is the name of a friend, Myers said. Indiana State Police were pursuing leads about anyone named “Casey” that could be associated with the Sweet family, including possibilities in Jeffersonville and Jackson County.
The second story Sweet has told investigators was that he had placed Emma on the hood of the truck because she was wet, and he took her coat off, and then she was swept away in the current of the river, Myers said.
Sweet then told investigators he couldn’t remember what happened after that, Myers said.
However, one of the windshield wipers on the truck was pulled up “as if someone had been hanging on it,” Myers said said. The river does have a substantial current at the location where the truck was found, the sheriff said.
“We are treating this like Emma was in the vehicle,” Myers said. “There are a lot of unknowns that just don’t add up. But our main concern is locating Emma. After that, we’ll start putting the pieces together.”
Out on bond
Sheriff deputies said Sweet is out on bond for possession of methamphetamine, as well as possession of a firearm by a felon, according to court records. When being examined in the CRH emergency room, Sweet had a needle used for injecting drugs, Myers said.
Based on the evidence found at the scene, “one would think that (Jeremy Sweet) was either under the influence, or had a medical condition,” Myers said. “I don’t think a normal individual would have been driving the way he was.”
Family members told investigators Jeremy Sweet often enjoyed off-road driving near the river where his truck was found. Tracks indicate he might have driven off-road for up to two miles before the truck went into the water, the sheriff said.
The search for Emma included the use of drones and an Indiana State Police helicopter, as well as about nine divers going underwater in rotations to try to locate the girl. Divers have searched depths as deep as 12 to 15 feet in the river near where the truck was found, Myers said.
Investigators planned to resume the search for the girl this morning, deputies said.
Indiana State Police, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, German Township and Columbus Township firefighters, 31 Wrecker, CRH EMS and Columbus firefighters were all assisting at the scene Friday, including having multiple boats on the river and a helicopter flying over nearby fields. Searchers went on foot along the riverbank trying to locate the girl.
“We want to thank all of the agencies out here helping us find Emma. It’s important that the community comes together to help,” said Bartholomew County Sheriff Chief Deputy Maj. Chris Lane.
The 2-year-old has been in the news before, winning the title Baby Miss Bartholomew County title earlier and was to have competed in the Midwest National Pageant last September in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The news story from earlier this year listed her parents names as Jeremy and Linsy Sweet, Columbus.
Jeremy W. Sweet has an extensive criminal record in Bartholomew County, according to court records.
After pleading guilty in 2003 to a felony count of possession of methamphetamine, Sweet got into deeper trouble. In November 2007, he was sentenced to 7½ years in the Department of Correction with three years suspended for a conviction of running a drug lab. As a condition of sentencing, he was also subject to three years of probation after his release and banned from possessing firearms during his probationary period.
In 2011, Sweet was charged with multiple drug counts, resulting in a probation violation. The court sentenced him to serve the three years in the DOC that had been suspended from his 2007 sentence.
In October 2015, Sweet once again faced felony charges of possessing and dealing meth, enhanced due to his prior convictions. But the court records show he was sentenced to serve no time in the DOC after pleading guilty. The court in March 2016 imposed a 4½-year sentence, all of which was suspended. Sweet was placed in Community Corrections and his sentence was stayed as a term of probation with a condition he cooperate with alcohol and drug treatment services.
A year later, the state moved to revoke Sweet’s probation, and he admitted in May 2017 that he had violated the terms of his probation by using meth and marijuana. Sweet was ordered remanded to the DOC to serve the balance of his previously suspended 4½-year sentence. In August 2018, the court granted a motion to modify Sweet’s sentence, releasing him from the DOC and placing him again in Community Corrections with the same condition that he cooperate with alcohol and drug treatment services.
In March, Sweet was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, then in May was charged again with possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.
He was released a few days after his May arrest on $5,000 cash bond. He was awaiting a trial date on the latter charges set for March 2022, according to court records.