It’s been seven years since that morning Laura Sanders awoke to find that her car had been stolen from a suburban Byron yard.
Sanders, now a Danville resident, had used her college graduation money to pay for a new paint job on her Mazda 929. She’d recently moved to Byron to establish herself and get a job teaching in Houston County.
She learned last week via text message that her stolen car — and one other also reported stolen — had been found submerged in the Ocmulgee River near Knoll’s Landing in Houston County.
Houston County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Robert Clark said finding the cars June 13 near Knoll’s landing wasn’t the first time deputies have found stolen cars in a river.
On a previous occasion deputies located a stolen car in the Flint River in Taylor County, Clark said.
“If you’re looking at it from the mind of a criminal, (a river) might be a good place to get rid of (stolen cars) without someone finding them for a while,” he said.
Bibb County sheriff’s Capt. Mike Smallwood can remember several stolen cars found in water over the course of his 36-year career.
As a patrol deputy in 1977, he helped out when deputies found about 10 stolen cars in a water pool at a rock quarry near Mumford Road and the Georgia Industrial Children’s Home.
“They’d put a brick on the gas pedal and let them go,” Smallwood said. “There’s no telling how long they were in there.”
Smallwood said he can also recall stolen cars being recovered from the Ocmulgee River near what’s now Water Works Park and the Ocmulgee at Bond Swamp.
Typically, deputies found the cars when water receded and people called in tips after spotting them. In the case of the cars at the rock quarry, the vehicles were spotted when the pool of water was drained, he said. Sanders’ car was found on June 13 when a man’s truck slipped into the Ocmulgee at Knoll’s Landing, located off Ga. 96 near the Houston-Twiggs county line, Clark said.
The man told deputies he was backing his truck up to the dock to unload his boat, when he lost control of a rope tied to the boat, according to a sheriff’s office report.
He tried to put the truck into park and grab the rope, but the truck rolled backward into the river, according to the report.
Divers working for Mike Adams Towing and Recovery found Sanders’ car and five others while trying to find the truck in the river, said Mike Adams, owner of the towing and recovery business.
Clark said two of the vehicles were identified as being stolen — Sanders’ car and one other that had been stolen in Macon. He didn’t have information about any other cars found in the river.
The cars were completely submerged, he said.
“They’d been in there for a while,” Clark said.
Sanders’ car was crushed on the top and was missing parts. It had mussels growing inside of it and was covered in mud, according to the sheriff’s office report.
The other stolen car, a 2005 Chevrolet Avalanche, had been missing since April 2008, according to a Macon police report.
The car, owned by James Howard Rish Jr. of Cleveland, Ga., was taken from Best Western Riverside Inn, 2400 Riverside Drive.
Sanders said she was very surprised authorities found her car.
At the time of the theft, she had been living with Robin Radcliffe and her family in Byron.
Sanders usually parked on the grass at the Radcliffes’ home in a suburban cul-de-sac, Radcliffe said.
One morning, Radcliffe’s husband was preparing to leave for work when he noticed Sanders’ car was gone.
“I was shocked,” Radcliffe said. “We didn’t hear anything.
“It freaked us out.”
Radcliffe, named as the victim on the stolen car report, received a call from the Houston County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday — about seven years after the car was stolen.
After hearing that the car had been found, she sent a message to Sanders.
“We kinda figured it was chopped,” said Sanders. “The fact that they found it was surprising.”
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.