More details released regarding Rayse Creek flood waters accident

Authorities have issued further details about the extent of the rescue efforts after a traffic accident and Rayse Creek recovery over the weekend.

The body of Shelby Mitchell was discovered in rural Ashley on Sunday after a two-day search through the flooded creek waters.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday afternoon that deputies were first contacted at 2:29 a.m. Saturday when a family member reported that Mitchell’s vehicle had drifted into flood waters on North Panzier Lane about a mile south of Illinois Route 15 near Woodlawn.

Upon arrival, police say family members were already on scene to help search for the vehicle, a gold 2011 Hyundai.

“Family advised Shelby had contacted them by phone about 2:15 a.m. reporting she was in flood waters in her car,,” the sheriff’s office said. Shelby had indicated that she had needed help before the call was disconnected.

Using GPS technology, Mitchell’s cell phone was tracked to a location just east of North Panzier Lane near Rayse Creek. Mutual aid was requested, and sonar teams from Benton Fire, Mutual Aid Box Alarm System 68 and The Illinois Department of Natural Resources responded. The Illinois State Police assisted with a plane, Kash supplied a helicopter and Mt. Vernon Police dispatched a drone to help find Mitchell.

Others assisting in the search included Jefferson and Franklin County EMA, Litton’s Ambulance and several citizen volunteers. At 11:58 a.m. Saturday, sonar teams got a hit on an object that was suspected to be Mitchell’s vehicle that was located more than 100 yards east of Panzier Lane and at least 13 feet deep with water speeds of 3 knots or greater. Because of the depth and the current speed, the team decided not to proceed until conditions improved.

“They made the difficult, but necessary choice, to postpone the recovery operation until the morning,” the sheriff’s office said.

Before 8 a.m. on Sunday, a concerned citizen arrived on scene with a drone and helped the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office with a fly over of the area marked by the sonar teams.

“At this time, the water had lowered to the point the car could be seen,” the sheriff’s office said. “Visual confirmation was then attempted by the Sheriff’s Office personnel, and the driver could be seen in the vehicle.”

Coroner Roger Hayse pronounced Mitchell deceased at the scene, and the cause of death was due to accidental drowning.

“Our heartfelt condolences and prayers go out to the family of Shelby Mitchell. Not only for the loss of their dear loved one, but also for the agonizing wait they had to endure to get closure,” the sheriff’s office said.

According to WSIL, Mitchell was an elementary teacher who had just accepted a position at J.L. Buford School in Mt. Vernon. She had previously worked at McClellan School as a fifth and sixth grade teacher.

A GoFund Me account that was started by one of Mitchell’s friends has surpassed its first goal of $5,000 a day after it was first opened.

“Shelby Mitchell had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known,” friend and organizer Randi McClain said. “She was extremely special and important to me, and so many others. She thrived to make everyone happy even if it inconvenienced herself. Perfect example of the way all humans should try and be.”

A car wash and school supply drive benefit is planned on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at Woodlawn Grade School. All proceeds will be distributed to area schools “in an effort to bless classrooms for the upcoming year.” More information about the event can be found here.

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