After three days of searching, Jacoby Gray (22), of Hawesville, sadly was found dead in Perry County at around 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Day, Sunday, December 25th.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office had posted a photo of Jacoby on Facebook stating that he was missing and had last been heard from on Thursday night, December 22nd. Sheriff Dale Bozarth said they discovered that he had been out with his friend, Michael Bickett, also of Hawesville.
When questioned, Bickett admitted to driving while drunk and then crashing his vehicle with Jacoby as a passenger. He stated that Jacoby left the scene and that he was unable to find him when he got the vehicle running again and left without him. Jacoby’s body was found in a field in Perry County at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday. He is said to have died of a combination of blood loss, due to an injury from the wreck, and hypothermia.
Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy B.J. Burton first got word that Jacoby was missing when he started his shift at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, December 23rd. Jacoby’s parents, Jamie & Mark Gray, had called and said their son was missing. They believed there had been a wreck and that he was with Michael Bickett the night before. Deputy Burton called the Grays and filled out a missing persons report.
The Grays told Burton that the vehicle was in the driveway at Bickett’s residence. At around 4:00 p.m. on Friday, he went to his house at 1721 Park Road in Hawesville and located the vehicle. “I went out there because I was going to talk to him, since he was the last person to see him,” Burton said. “I pulled up and the vehicle was wrecked on the left side. It did have some blood stains inside of the vehicle. You could tell there was a serious accident somewhere.”
Bickett was not at his residence when Burton went to examine the vehicle. He talked to him on the phone and talked to his mother while at the house. “I never saw him in person until around 7 o’clock at night at Vastwood. That’s when I ran into him. He stated that he didn’t know where he had wrecked at. He said he had been to Tell City, Cannelton and Hawesville. He kept thinking that he’d wrecked on this side of the bridge down by Larry’s, which is Powers now,” he said.
Hancock County Emergency Management Director Kyle Veach and Deputy Burton drove all the roads looking for evidence of wrecks of any kind. “All he could remember was hitting a guard rail or a dirt spot,” Burton said. “So, we drove the roads. We were coming through Vastwood, and we ended up seeing a van. Mr. Bickett was in the van with 2 females that were driving. We took him to the Sheriff’s Office for questioning.”
Bickett was arrested on a D.U.I., Endangerment for Fleeing the Scene and Failure to Render Aid. “We took a blood sample from him for a D.U.I. case. After that, we asked for subpoenas for his phone,” Burton said. AT&T maps on the phone record would show where he had been and give them a better idea where to look for Jacoby.
“We searched for two days after that and we had no luck,” he said. “We interviewed Bickett multiple times. Saturday, I went to the jail and interviewed him. He still had the same story – that he couldn’t remember where he’d wrecked. Sunday, Christmas Day, at about 8:30 a.m., myself and Deputy (Jeff) Hendricks went to the Breckinridge County Detention Center and interviewed Mr. Bickett again. We were approaching the 48-hour mark and it had been almost 72 hours since anybody had contact with Jacoby (since around 10:00 p.m. Thursday).”
Burton and Hendricks asked if Bickett would release his cell phone to them so they could check his Google Maps. “After 2 and a half hours of interviewing, he finally broke down and allowed us to use his phone and he signed our paperwork. We left the jail at approximately 11:30 a.m. and got back to the Sheriff’s Office at about 12:15 p.m. because the roads were bad. We were able to build a map with his exact phone versus AT&T locations, because they only give you 5,000 meters, which is 3.5 miles between each location, which is a lot of radius when you don’t know where the wreck occurred,” Burton said.
Using Google Maps location, they went up Old State Road 237 to Quaker Street into a subdivision area in Perry County. “We drove the subdivision and we had no luck finding the wreck there. Across the road, I believe the street was Tin Alley Road – it’s a dead end that runs behind the hospital (Perry County Memorial) and used to cut to 237. We went down that road and at the end we found a guard rail and a dead end. The guard rail had been hit. The stop sign was knocked over, the dead end sign was knocked over and the guard rail had damage,” Burton said.
It was around 2:00 p.m. on Sunday when they found the wreck site. “We got out and moved some snow around and found a cell phone. We found a blood stain and a couple of items from the car. Deputy Hendricks and I secured the scene and called Perry County,” he said.
They closed off the scene and called in Perry County and Indiana State Police (ISP). “ISP came down. We line-searched the area,” Burton said. “We found where Jacoby had exited the car. He had hit the windshield in the wreck. So, that’s where the blood came from on the passenger side. He had fled the vehicle for an unknown reason. That night it was snowing. He had actually went up the hill close to the road. He had a blood trail coming out. We followed the blood trail for just a little bit.”
A line search was then executed, 15-20 police officers spread out the length of a hallway and started walking in one area, combing across. “That’s how we were able to find where he went up on the hill and sat for a little bit, because we found an IPad tablet up there where he’d sat,” Burton said. “He was probably about 200-300 feet from the crash site up on the hill. He was up in the woods and was disoriented because he had a head injury, more than likely. He sat there for, I’d say, 10-15 minutes tops and then went across 237. I guess he was trying to get help.”
Jacoby had walked across Old State Road 237 and died in the field in front of the County Wide Animal Clinic in Perry County. “That’s where we found him,” Burton said. “He had a head injury with a lot of bleeding, extreme bleeding, and he possibly died of hypothermia after that. So, it was a combination of both. It was negative 25 degrees when the wreck occurred. We found him around 4:45 p.m. on Christmas Day.” Perry County Sheriff’s Office, ISP Jasper Post and Perry County EMA were all involved in the search along with Hancock County Deputies Burton and Hendricks.
They closed off the crime scene and the coroner was called. Identification was made and an autopsy is pending. “The family was notified right there on the spot,” Burton said. “Some of the family had heard when we called for the coroner in Perry County. They had their scanners on and some of the family was showing up at the time. They were able to ID him. It was very rough. It was a long three days. A very long time but I’m glad we found him.”
ISP Jasper Post has now taken over the case. The suspect, Michael Bickett, is a convicted felon and had been released from prison earlier this year. He remains in Breckinridge County Detention Center and was charged with Leaving the Scene of an Accident, Failure to Render Aid, Wanton Endangerment and Operating a Motor Vehicle Under the Influence. It is still an ongoing investigation in Indiana and Detective Fisher is assigned to the case.
Jacoby Gray had turned 22-years-old in May of this year. His son, Bryar, is just a toddler and without a father now. Jacoby’s family experienced the worst Christmas weekend anyone could imagine. Now that he has been found, they are grieving. Please pray for God to comfort them through this time.
By Jennifer Wimmer