Halfway through a difficult week, paralegal Tiffany Krisell continued to field phone calls at the Stuttgart law office of Jeremiah T. "Jeremy" Bueker in the wake of his passing.
Bueker, 48, who was also Arkansas County's Northern District judge, was found dead in Mud Lake, almost 35 miles east of downtown Pine Bluff in the Reydell community on Sunday morning, according to the Jefferson County sheriff's office. Deputies with the sheriff's office Marine Patrol teamed with state wildlife officers to begin a ground and water search after being dispatched Saturday night, and Bueker was found the following morning after a 5½-hour break due to low visibility, a sheriff's official told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Sheriff Lafayette Woods said Wednesday, citing a preliminary report of an autopsy from the state Crime Laboratory, Bueker died of an accidental drowning. Results of a toxic screening had not been returned, Woods added.
Bueker, who had partnered with a Pine Bluff lawyer until opening his Stuttgart office in 2016, was the only lawyer at the firm, according to Krisell. Bueker specialized in bankruptcy law.
"The phone's been ringing off-and-on and I've been telling people what happened," Krisell said Wednesday. "It's kind of a shock, trying to keep everyone going and seeing what we can legally do. There are a lot of question marks until we can talk to an attorney."
"We" refers to Krisell and Bueker's family. They have yet to figure out what to do with Bueker's office, she said.
"It's a day-by-day thing," she added. "It's been overwhelming."
Even Krisell has thought about becoming a lawyer since Bueker's death, she said.
"Right now, I'm just trying to be there for the family," Krisell said. "I worked with him for 18 years. It's a big transition."
Bueker, a Stuttgart native, was first elected district judge in 2012. But how his successor will be determined is not yet clear.
Arkansas County Judge Thomas "Eddie" Best said the selection "does not come through the county." Best believes a group including Stuttgart Mayor Norma Stabala, an attorney and a circuit judge will recommend a successor to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who would then make the final selection. Stabala could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Bueker was born Oct. 29, 1973, and graduated from Stuttgart High School in 1992, according to an obituary. He earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law in 2001.
Among his achievements listed in the obituary, he was certified to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2005 and named best attorney for Stuttgart in 2019.
Bueker leaves behind wife Sunny, with whom he was married 24 years, four children and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at First Baptist Church, 2115 S. Prairie St. in Stuttgart.
"He was the best employer, but more than that, he loved his family and they loved him," Krisell said. "There are no words. He was so wonderful and so honest. He was the best attorney."