What started out as a water rescue Saturday is now being investigated as a crime. An SUV that was reported stolen early Saturday morning was found in Phillips Lake in Columbia.
A visitor at Phillips Park reported seeing the SUV in the lake at 10:30 a.m. Firefighters responded to the scene about 10 minutes after it was reported. When they arrived, others visiting the lake said the vehicle had been there for several hours.
Battalion Chief John Metz with the Columbia Fire Department said they brought a rescue squad to see if there were any passengers inside.
John Metz, Columbia Fire Department: “There was a potential for a water rescue on dispatch, but when we arrived and heard that the vehicle had been in the water for hours, that kind of puts us into a recovery mode because someone couldn’t survive underwater for several hours like that.”
Firefighters did not find anyone in the vehicle. The tan Chevy Suburban was submerged in about five feet of water 30 feet from the boat ramp.
Metz said there is no standard procedure for a water rescue because every case is different, but the top priority is searching for any possible victims.
Metz: “We very cautiously put someone in a rescue suit, tether them to a rescue rope, they make their way to the vehicle, see if they can feel any victims in the vehicle because the water is too murky to see, it’s very muddy.”
Columbia Police and a park ranger searched the perimeter of the lake as well and found no victims.
All windows were broken out of the vehicle, and officials found broken glass in the nearby parking lot that matched the tinted windows. Firefighters then helped a towing service remove the vehicle from the water. Crews were on the scene for about an hour and a half.
CPD contacted the owner of the vehicle’s registration and found they had reported it stolen earlier this morning. Nothing else was reported stolen inside the vehicle. Officials do not know how the vehicle was taken.
The investigation is ongoing. Police said they will search the SUV for evidence, but it depends on the condition of the vehicle if they will be able to find any. At this point, there are no suspects.