‘Don’t try to follow me’: Note found in missing Blount hiker’s car
By J.J. Kindred | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
NEWFOUND GAP — Searchers are puzzled about a note found in the car of a Blount County man who has been missing since Thursday in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“Don’t try to follow me,” read the note, which was left in the white Ford Escape owned by 24-year-old Derek Joseph Lueking, of Louisville.
According to Park spokesman Bob Miller, officials consider the note irrelevant and he is unsure if Lueking even wrote it.
“Who was it intended for?” Miller said. “What does that tell you? It certainly doesn’t help us.”
It was discovered that Lueking had purchased a sleeping bag and tent, as well as several Park maps, but they were apparently left in his vehicle. Lueking’s father and sister, who came down from Northern Virginia to assist in the search and encourage others to provide information if they had seen him, confirmed Tuesday that he also left his wallet and credit cards as well.
Miller said Thursday the Park had about 60 people and three dog teams assigned to continue the search for Lueking, which was entering its sixth day.
The searchers have been organized into 14 search teams that have walked more than 70 miles of trails surrounding the Newfound Gap parking area on the Tennessee-North Carolina line, where Lueking’s vehicle was found last Saturday.
“Trail search teams are exploring any area along the trail where it would appear relatively easy to get off the trail into the woods,” Miller said. “Once off-trail, the teams would look for tracks or clues that anybody passed that way. The teams continue into the woods until they reach a point where it is either unsafe to continue or until they reach a barrier, such as a rhododendron thicket, where (Lueking) could not have gone without leaving evidence of his passage.”
Miller again confirmed Thursday that teams were following up on a possible sighting report along Newfound Gap Road last Saturday, where Lueking may have entered the woods.
Lueking, a Northern Virginia native, is a graduate of Johnson University (formerly Johnson Bible College) in Knoxville and works as an orderly for Peninsula Behavioral Health Center.
Second search continues
Meanwhile, 14 Tennessee Department of Corrections officers are joining Park rangers searching the east bank of the Little Pigeon River for Michael Giovanni Cocchini, 23, a Nashville resident who was staying temporarily in Gatlinburg. He was last seen by friends at the Walmart in Sevierville at about 2 p.m. on Sunday.
The search team covered the West Prong of the river and the strip of forest between the river and Newfound Gap Road, which runs parallel to the river.
Rangers became suspicious Tuesday afternoon when they noticed that a vehicle had been parked since Sunday at a quiet walkway along Newfound Gap Road about 1 mile south of the Park’s Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Cocchini is 6 feet tall, weighs 160 pounds and has short black hair and a scruffy beard. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt and gray or silver tennis shoes with blue stripes. He is not known to be a hiker and had no gear for hiking or overnight camping.
Those with information on Cocchini are asked to call the Park at 865-436-1230.