CALERA, Ala. (AP) - Divers in 50-foot-deep waters at an
abandoned coal strip mine in western Shelby County have located
eight stolen cars, and authorities say there may be more.
The Calera Search and Rescue Team, following a tip, made an
expedition to the muddy bottom of the near-black waters, and
members were surprised by the number of cars they found, said
police Sgt. Clint Barnett.
The reservoir is several miles northwest of Montevallo, near a
remote section of the Cahaba River.
The 25-member team, including 15 divers, is made up of
volunteers and paid staffers with the city's police and fire
departments. On Wednesday, divers recovered a 1996 Nissan Altima
stolen from a Chilton County resident several years ago. Earlier,
they pulled out a 1994 Pontiac Grand Am stolen last year in
Alabaster.
"We have heard reports there may be a stolen boat submerged in
the lake, and there are probably all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles
and four-wheelers that we will recover," Barnett said.
Because of the planning needed to pull a car from deep water and
the wear and tear on equipment, the divers plan to spend months
retrieving the cars one by one.
Each recovery operation also will serve as a training session,
Barnett said. Most of the team members are certified by the
National Academy of Police Diving to be underwater crime scene
experts and need to practice their skills.
If keys are still in the ignition, the divers are trained to
recover them so a crime lab can analyze them for fingerprints.
Upholstery and seats also can hold clues, said Calera police Capt.
Tommy Palmer.
"Criminals think that by dumping the car they are destroying
any evidence of their crime, and many times they are right,"
Palmer said. "But underwater crime scene investigators know how to
look for the small stuff that can help solve an open case."
Barnett said the two cars pulled from the lake were returned to
auto insurance companies, which is routine in auto theft cases that
have gone unsolved for several weeks or more.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)