Command post coordinator Chad Seal, a member of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department as well as captain of the rescue squad, said the missing woman, Donna Sargent, is mentally challenged and has a history in the county of wandering off. Since Sargent has always been located — including after one occasion in which she spent the night outdoors — there is some hope she will be located in good condition. However, due to the cold weather, some of the search party members have concerns that the temperature could take its toll on the missing woman.
“If it wasn’t for the weather, she’d probably be OK if we don’t locate her tonight,” said Jessie Royston of the HCSD. “But a healthy person can get hypothermia in this kind of cold. It depends on how she’s dressed and if she finds shelter. She stayed out all night once before when it was cold like this, but she found a barn and stayed in that.”
Seal was also concerned with Sargent’s health, saying she is diabetic, has high blood pressure and needs medication for those problems as well as others.
Seal said the missing woman is in her late 40s or early 50s, is approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall, and weighs approximately 200 pounds. It is unknown what she is wearing, as she wandered away while her caretakers were not home.
Seal said Sargent lives with her mother, who left her daughter home alone to run an errand Monday morning. When she returned at approximately 11:30 a.m., the woman was not in the apartment they share. The mother conducted a search then notified the sheriff’s department, and a full-scale search was launched at approximately 3:30 p.m.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department was initially assisted in the search by the county rescue squad and most, if not all, of the county’s volunteer fire departments. They were later joined by crews from rescue squads in Grainger, Hawkins and Hamblen counties as well as the Bean Station Rescue Squad’s Water Rescue Team. The Knox County Sheriff’s Department provided a helicopter equipped with infrared spotting equipment shortly after 7 p.m. The Hamblen County/Morristown rescue squad also had several tracking dogs on the ground by late afternoon.
Seal said more than 50 individuals from the various departments were searching a five-mile radius of the woman’s home, although in the past she has been located within two miles of her apartment.
Royston said the infrared equipment may be more effective after nightfall — if the woman has not already taken shelter in some sort of structure. Searchers remained hopeful the woman could be located safely and in good condition.