Another vehicle has fallen victim to the Pratt County Lake, but this one went in a long, long time ago.
A clue to a 13-year-old grand theft auto came to light Monday but not in a way anybody connected to the theft would have expected.
A 1999 GMC pickup was discovered in the Pratt County Veterans Memorial Lake April 15. It had been in the lake for a long time, possibly 13 years. It was also stolen and had been missing for those 13 years.
The pickup belongs to the Offerle Co-op in Edwards County. It was reported stolen on Oct. 25, 2006, said Edwards County Sheriff Bryant Kurth.
The pickup was known to be at the co-op on Friday, Oct. 20, 2006 and employees were pretty sure it was there on Saturday morning, Oct. 21, 2006, Kurth said.
The Offerle Co-op has a branch facility and it was not unusual for keys to be left in vehicles so if someone needed the vehicle from the other branch, they could just come and get the keys.
No one needed the pickup until Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006. When an employee went to get the pickup from the Offerle lot, and discovered it wasn’t there, calls were made to the branch elevator but no one there had the pickup. The vehicle was reported stolen on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006.
Kurth said papers from the glove box were discovered in a ditch west of Offerle. An investigation came up empty and there were no suspects in the case. No trace of the pickup or the person or persons who took the vehicle were ever found until April 15, 2019 when some people at the Pratt County Veterans Memorial Lake saw something in the water that looked like the top of a vehicle.
The lake is being drained to make repairs on the inlet and outlet mechanism that were both damaged in the Labor Day flood of 2018.
Pratt County Sheriff Jimmy White said dispatch was notified about 7:30 p.m. and his officers responded to the scene at the southeast corner of the lake just off the next to last pier on the south east end of the lake. They determined it was indeed a vehicle in the lake and recovery efforts began immediately.
With assistance from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism plus help from the Pratt County Road Department. The vehicle was pulled from the lake after dark. The vehicle was completely covered in slime and mud. It was obvious that the pickup had been in the water for a very long time, White said.
“This was not a recent incident,” White said.
But exactly how long the pickup was in the lake is a mystery. It was obviously in the water for a very long time but exactly how long is difficult to determine.
There were several fishing lures snagged on the vehicle. The interior had about two feet of mud inside the cab. The steering wheel was broken off and was eventually found on the floor along with a cinder block that was sitting on the accelerator pedal. The keys were still in the ignition in the “on” position, White said.
From the location, White said he thought the pickup might gone off the island in the middle of the lake and probably floated for a while before sinking to the bottom about 20 feet from the end of the pier. White said the windows in the vehicle had been rolled down.
The County Fire Department helped force the doors on the vehicle to get inside. They washed the vehicle inside and out and nothing was found to indicate there had been a crime other than the cinder block and broken steering wheel. No human remains were found inside the vehicle.
“It was empty,” White said.
Once the vehicle was recovered and washed out, the Sheriff’s Office began searching for the owner of the vehicle and why it ended up in the lake in Pratt County. At first, it was very difficult to make any headway. It was clear from the license tag that the vehicle was not registered in Pratt County but when the tag and VIN were entered in the state system, they came up empty because they were not longer in the system.
Several owners of stolen vehicles in Pratt County heard about the pickup and made contact with the sheriff’s office but none of them were a match.
While the State Files didn’t have information, the final clue came through the treasurers office in Edwards County. The tag had led them to Edwards County. A record in the treasure’s office was pulled and through that, the investigation led to the title of the vehicle and the owner, Offerle Co-op, Kurth said.
While the pickup has been found, the person or persons who stole it all those years ago may never be found. And if they were, they couldn’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has run out on this case, Kurth said.
Right now, the vehicle sits in a secured storage area. Technically, it belongs to the insurance company that paid the policy on the vehicle. What they will do with it is up to them.
Several questions still remain unanswered on this case. Who stole the vehicle, why was it stolen, why was it dumped in Pratt County Veterans Memorial Lake and how long has it been there?
The answers to these questions may never be answered but one thing is for certain. Fishermen are likely happy that the pickup is gone because it’s one less thing to snag a lure while fishing.