Scores of people, tracking dogs looking for missing Louisville man
From Staff Reports
About 30 people were involved Monday in the search in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a Louisville man who was reported missing by co-workers and family members last Thursday.
A white Ford Escape belonging to Derek Joseph Leuking, 24, was found Saturday morning at the Newfound Gap parking area on the Tennessee-North Carolina line.
Over the weekend, Park rangers hiked over 40 miles of trails that radiate out from Newfound Gap, looking for signs of Leuking and interviewing hikers they encountered to see if anybody had met him, but without success.
Leuking was reportedly last seen at 4 a.m. Saturday at the Microtel Inn in Cherokee, N.C. He was believed to be carrying a dark-colored daypack, but not a tent or other overnight gear.
He is described as a white male, 5 feet 11 inches tall, 220
pounds with short brown hair and a short beard, and is believed to be wearing black track pants,
white tennis shoes and may have had a Realtree camouflage rain suit.
trackers and search dog team are following up on a couple of potential clues that might help
determine Leuking’s route after leaving his vehicle. Other teams are expanding the areas being
covered to include the overlooks along Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome Road.
CLERK RECALLS LEUKING
Kelly Helums, a front desk clerk at the Microtel, told The Daily Times Monday afternoon that she remembers checking Leuking in between about 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. last Friday.
“I remember him asking about the hiking trails and if dogs were allowed,” Helums said. “He didn’t check out and he just left before his parents were looking for him.”
Search managers now believe that, if he is in the Park, he is off-trail. Three search dog teams combed the woods along the Appalachian Trail and along an old, abandoned section of U.S. 441 that leaves the parking lot southbound. A Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter was assigned to cover the area from the air.
In addition to Park personnel, there are now searchers from the Blue Ridge Parkway engaged in the search and Cherokee Tribal EMS has a unit on-scene. Two dog teams came from the North Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association and the third came from the South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association.
Search personnel are also being posted at
some of the popular trailheads such as Alum Cave, Chimney Tops, Sugarlands Visitor Center and
Clingmans Dome. These individuals will be handing out flyers in hopes that somebody coming out of
the backcountry may have seen Leuking.
Rangers have also considered that Leuking may have left the Park and are asking anybody who may have seen him since Saturday to contact the Park Service at 865-436-1230.