Deputy Elijah Kelley has been with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office for six years and has already met two big goals — completing K-9 training and training for the SWAT team. And, within six months of each other, he was in the right place at the right time to save a woman from drowning and rescued another who was lost.
On Dec. 29, 2019, Kelley and Deputy Houston Bagsby were first on the scene when a woman’s car was washed off the road and into Leiper’s Creek in an area near The Davis General store. When the 69-year-old woman initially drove on the road to a friend’s house, the creek flowing alongside the road was pretty shallow. Between then and when she headed home, heavy rains caused the river to rise substantially.
“The river took her car,” Kelley said. “When I arrived, she was trapped in the front seat, water was up to her shoulders and she had communicated with her daughter, who was contacting the Rescue Squad.”
All Kelley had in his car was a 50-foot dog leash, and the water was still rising. He tied the leash around Bagsby, who anchored around a tree. The other end went around Kelley’s waist.
“I got to the vehicle and encouraged her to get into the back seat, then I broke the window,” said Kelley, who was about to pull her out through the rear window when the Williamson County Rescue Squad arrived with a vest and extricated her.
Kelley felt the cold-to-the-bone feeling that night.
Then, during a warm spell in late May, a mother dropped off her daughter, who was in her 20s, at the Harpeth River canoe landing at Pinkerton Park to kayak to the Cottonwood landing, where the mom would pick her up. However, when the mom arrived, the daughter didn’t show.
Kelley and Deputy Daniel Beard were on a trespassing call on Hillsboro Road when at 8:53 p.m. the 911 call from the daughter came in to dispatch. About the same time, the mom waved down their patrol car.
“She said her daughter’s lost on the Harpeth River,” Kelley said. “The GPS was showing where she was.”
The mom called the daughter’s phone, but it died shortly after. Dispatch sent out an unknown trouble, lost on the Harpeth River, phone about to die, message and made an attempt to reach her phone. Dispatch got a location ping on the river, and it showed she was somewhere between Old Natchez Road and Natchez Road.
“We drove back and forth along Old Natchez to see if she would come out of the woods,” Kelley said. “There was nothing.”
They returned to the last known ping on the river, and Kelley, who grew up in the country and was comfortable in the woods, headed toward the river.
“I walked through three corn fields, a couple barbed wire fences and thick river weed,” he said. “I called her name — nothing. I feared she’d continued to paddle.”
The fourth time, he called hard, and from the west he heard an answer. She was about a mile up river. By then, the sheriff’s department helicopter had arrived, and Kelley advised them he could hear the girl and learned she wasn’t hurt. He stayed with the young lady until permission was granted from the land owner to get a vehicle through the fields to retrieve her — she wasn’t dressed to go through the river weeds. Kelley carried the kayak out.
“I was so glad she stayed at the first ping,” Kelley said.
Kelley has a long family history with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office. As he tells it, two deputies were present at his birth. Sgt. James Graves and Lt. Steve Dunning took his mom’s vitals when he was born.
From a very young age, “I knew I wanted to be in law enforcement,” he said.
Although there was a time that he had his eyes set on the military — special operations — childhood asthma nixed that idea.
“Law enforcement seemed to be the next best thing,” Kelley said. “I’ve always been a thrill seeker. I grew up around guns, and SWAT really appealed to me.”
Former Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long hired Kelley in September 2014. Kelley was 19. Two years later, he entered the Police Academy and was on his way to living his dreams.
Since Kelley was raised with working dogs and understood their capabilities and intelligence, when the opportunity was presented, he joined the K-9 division and trained with his dog, Jenks, a young German shepherd trained in criminal interdiction.
“We’re the only agency in the area with dual-purpose dogs,” Kelley said. “We have some of the best dogs in Middle Tennessee.”
WCSO has six dogs in their K-9 unit — four dual-purpose trained to detect and apprehend, one trained for explosives and narcotics detection, and one is singularly trained for electronic detection.
In January, after months of schooling and training, Kelley was admitted to the SWAT team. Another dream realized.