Body of 10-year-old girl found

By Lesley Jenkins and Julie Fann
star staff;

MOUNTAIN CITY -- Late Wednesday evening police and rescue personnel here found a body believed to be that of a 10-year-old girl missing since 11:55 a.m. after her family's van flipped over into a creek and flood waters snatched her out of her father's arms.
   "We recovered the body at approximately 8:45 p.m. two miles from the site of the accident. We're waiting for positive identification," said Mountain City Police Department Lieutenant Marvin Fritts. Fritts said the body was found near the end of Butler Lane and fit the description of Brandy Stidham. Fritts said he couldn't confirm who found the body.
   Rescue personnel began searching for the girl after her family's van hydroplaned off of U.S. Highway 91 near Eller Road. The van "clipped a telephone pole and flipped onto its top into Furnace Creek," Fritts said.
   The girl's father, Jeff Stidham, driver of the vehicle, exited the car after it flipped, "and he had a hold of her for a brief time. But because of the rushing water, he couldn't hang on to her," Fritts said.
   Fritts said there were 7 passengers, excluding the driver, who were in the van at the time of the accident, and the family was traveling to Boone, N.C. to go shopping. He said he believed all of the passengers were treated at the Johnson County Health Center and released, but he couldn't confirm that. "I remember that they had called Wings, but then I heard them say that Wings backed off," he said.
   Fritts said at least 12 officers from the MCPD, citizen volunteers for civil defense, rescue squad personnel, volunteer fire department personnel and other volunteers searched for the girl. WMCT radio also requested that volunteers stand beside the creek to provide assistance.
   Emergency workers were stationed at Furnace Creek and had planned to continue the search to the city limits and extending to Watauga Lake. Volunteers were also stationed where Furnace Creek connects with Roan Creek, another tributary stream that leads to Watauga Lake.
   Fritts said a complete police report on the incident would possibly not be filed for a couple of days pending positive identification of the body.