The search for James Hutchinson: ‘Uncontrollable elements’ add difficulty in recovery from Ohio River

Recovering a body from a river is “difficult” under idea conditions, but when the water level is elevated and the current is swift, the search becomes more dangerous and lowers the odds of a recovery.

“A needle in a haystack” is how Capt. Rick Bucheit from the Butler County Sheriff’s Office described a river recovery. “There are so many variables. When you consider all of them, you realize how difficult it can be.”

Bucheit said those searching for the body of a 6-year-old Middletown boy, who allegedly was thrown into the Ohio River near Lawrenceburg, Ind., by his mother and her boyfriend, are dealing with increased water speeds that are carrying large amounts of debris.

While the sheriff’s office water rescue unit isn’t searching for James Hutchinson, Bucheit said he wouldn’t risk the safety of a diver because of the potential of becoming trapped under water by logs and debris. He said even the most experienced rescue team would be fortunate to find anyone given the conditions.

“One in a million,” he said.

Middletown police Chief David Birk said numerous agencies in Ohio and Indiana are participating in the search.

“We all want closure for James and his family,” Birk said. “Man, it’s a sad situation.”

ExplorePolice: Mother, boyfriend stories ‘identical’ on Ohio River disposal of 6-year-old Middletown boy

The Ohio River has been deemed too dangerous to search for James, 6, a first-grader at Rosa Parks Elementary School, most of this week. The river was at 56 feet, 9 inches Thursday and expects to crest at 57 feet, according to the latest forecast from the National Weather Service in Wilmington. That’s the highest since the river measured at 55.46 feet on Feb. 13, 2019 in Cincinnati, according to the NWS.

Birk said by Sunday, after the river has receded, the search should continue. Birk said river searches are challenging because of the “uncontrollable elements,” the depth and speed of the water and the weather.

“We like controlled environments when we can do a group search, walk in a line and look for evidence,” he said of police work. “But we don’t have that here. We want to find the fastest and best way to find James.”

James allegedly was killed by his mother, Brittany Gosney, in a Preble County state park last week. Then he was dumped into the river near the Indiana and Ohio border by Gosney and her boyfriend, James Hamilton sometime Sunday, police said.

Some people have questioned whether the boy was thrown into the Ohio River, about an hour drive from Middletown. They believe the couple could have put James in the Great Miami River, an abandoned home, anywhere.

But Birk said Gosney and Hamilton, in separate interviews with Middletown detectives, gave the “same exact details” regarding the disposal of James.

“In the beginning they had different statements about when they last saw the child,” Birk said. “But when it comes down to the details of this part, it’s identical.”

ExploreTimeline: How the murder case of Middletown 6-year-old James Hutchinson unfolded

Gosney, 29, is charged with murder, abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence. Hamilton, 42, is charged with abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. Bond was set Monday in Middletown Municipal Court at $1 million for Gosney and $105,000 for Hamilton.

They are scheduled to be back in court next week for preliminary hearings. They remained housed Thursday in the Middletown City Jail.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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