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Divers Hoping to Solve Cold Cases Find 30 Cars in Florida Lake


Volunteer divers looking over the weekend for underwater vehicles in South Florida in an effort to solve missing persons cases found something unexpected: roughly 30 cars submerged under a single lake, according to the police.

The cars were discovered a few miles west of Miami International Airport in Doral, in a commercial area filled with cafes, a pharmacy and a car dealership. They were likely dumped there decades ago by people hoping to rid themselves of a car because of its connection to a crime, the search teams said.

“That’s the highest we’ve ever found in a lake,” said Ken Fleming, the founder of Recon Dive Recovery, one of the groups involved in the search. Recon Dive employs divers and special equipment such as sonar to find missing people and cars underwater.

The Doral Police Department said in a statement on Monday that it was investigating the submerged vehicles, and that dive teams from multiple agencies had been dispatched to extract them.

Angel Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department, said that dive teams had begun retrieving the cars Tuesday morning. Mr. Fleming estimated the extraction could take several weeks.

He suggested that some of the cars could trace back to the armed conflict between the United States government and the Colombian drug cartels during the 1970s and ’80s.

“There was a lot of crime during the cocaine wars in Miami,” Mr. Fleming said. Many of the sunken cars were from the same era, he said, and could have been dumped in the lake by the cartels.

While it is unusual to find dozens of cars submerged in a single lake, it was an otherwise typical weekend for the volunteer groups, composed of divers and other specialists who help find missing people at the center of unsolved cases. Their searches often lead them to bodies of water.

“When the person and their vehicle have both gone missing and it’s a cold case, it’s a high likelihood that the vehicle is underwater,” Mr. Fleming said.

Several cars were found under a lake last May in Deerfield Beach, Fla., according to the Tampa-based television station WFLA.

Besides Mr. Fleming’s group, the search team included United Search Corps and Sunshine State Sonar. All three organizations help families find their missing loved ones even after the local authorities have moved on to other cases. The groups said they began searching the lake last week and that they discovered the cars on Friday and Saturday.

The teams notified the Doral police and the Miami-Dade police that weekend. So far, no bodies have been discovered in the lake.

The search teams believe the cars may provide clues to old, unsolved cases. Doug Bishop, the founder of United Search Corps, said many of the cars were likely stolen vehicles tied to a carjacking, a homicide or other criminal activity.

“No vehicle is underwater for a good reason,” Mr. Bishop said. He estimated that many of the cars had been submerged under the lake for more than 30 years.

Besides solving unsolved cases, there are also environmental reasons for removing the cars from the lake, Mr. Fleming said. The lake is part of a larger system of waterways that filters into the Floridan Aquifer.

As the cars break down underwater, he said, they can leech gasoline and emit oily residue and other harmful chemicals that can end up impacting the state’s drinking water.

Mr. Bishop, who is from South Beach, Fla., says he plans to search all the waterways to provide answers for families who are missing loved ones, a project that he said would take the next several years.

“There’s thousands of waterways within southern Florida that have to be cleared,” Mr. Bishop said. “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface.”

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