PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – The remains of a man who went missing nearly 17 years ago were recovered from a submerged vehicle in a retention pond after volunteer divers assisted Florida investigators with the case, according to reports.
The recovery divers deployed sonar search methods and found a Mitsubishi SUV in the 200 block of Old Oak Circle at the bottom of a Palm Harbor pond Thursday evening. The license plates matched a vehicle belonging to Robert Helphrey who disappeared in 2006, Fox 13 Tampa Bay reported.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office had the vehicle towed from the body of water on Friday. Not long after, officials confirmed the skeletal remains inside the vehicle were identified as Helphrey.
The vehicle was pulled from the retention pond on Friday. (Screenshot FOX 13 Tampa Bay)
The Medical Examiner’s Office will try to determine a cause of death and the investigation is currently an open case, according to the sheriff’s office.
Helphrey was last seen about midnight on May 22, 2006 leaving Peggy O’Neill’s Bar in Palm Harbor. He was reportedly on the way to meet a friend, but never arrived, authorities said.
The retention pond where the vehicle and Helphrey’s remains were located is about six minutes away from the pub. The bar is directly across the street from the Thirsty Marlin, where Helphrey worked as a general manager.
Brian St. Arnold is a childhood friend of Helphrey, and owns the restaurant where the missing man worked. St. Arnold said Helphrey worked the evening he disappeared. Moreover, he hopes the discovery clears any rumors about his friend’s disappearance, FOX 13 reported.
St. Arnold believes Helphrey simply took a wrong turn that night, which caused him to wind up in the retention pond.
“It’s just amazing that nobody saw him that night. No one heard anything. He didn’t yell for help,” he told the news outlet.
Sunshine State Sonar and Recon Dive Recovery both assisted the sheriff’s office in locating the missing automobile, something they routinely do as they sift through national missing persons databases and research any information about missing persons. On Friday morning, St. Arnold received a call from a team volunteer notifying him of the recovery.
“There’s been lots of mysteries over the years. So many people have asked us, ‘have you heard what happened to Bob? Did anybody find …’ and about a year ago this fella came to us and said that he was going to be looking with sonar equipment and trying to find Bob and gave an interview with us, called me back a couple of days later and said, ‘I will find him. Give me some time.’ He did,” St. Arnold said.
Ken Fleming, of Recon Dive Recovery said, “We start looking at the person’s work address, home address, patterns of life where they like to hang out, last cell phone pings.”
Using sonar and magnet equipment, they make efforts to locate submerged automobiles.
Fleming said the team discovered the remains of a missing teacher in Port Orange last week, New York Post reported.
The groups had been working on Helphrey’s case for about a year, Fleming disclosed. Despite zero-visibility conditions, they were able to spot Helphrey’s vehicle.
“When the family member comes up and gives you a hug and it’s bittersweet, you know, they’re glad you’re there. They wish you weren’t,” Fleming said.
Helphrey’s family and friends said they want him remembered as a great father, son and a veteran who served in Desert Storm.