When a Texas search and rescue firm discovered more than 127 cars submerged in Houston bayous, the company says police tried to silence them.
Tim Miller, the founder of the non-profit Texas Equusearch, says a detective with the Houston Police Department gagged them after their search for a missing elderly woman turned up more than 100 missing vehicles.
Police allegedly told Equusearch to keep quiet about the sonar images of Sims, Braes and Buffalo Bayous because they do not have the money to deal with all the vehicles.
"We were actually searching for Lillian High when HPD asked us to put our boat in the bayou," Miller said. The 82-year-old went missing Oct. 3, 2011.
"I went to the detective and said, we got a problem,” Miller told the Houston Chronicle. “We've found all these cars. He said, 'You need to shut up, the city doesn't have the money and the public will go crazy about this.'"
Miller says having submerged and corroding vehicles in Houston waterways is a potential environmental and safety hazard, not to mention the fact that they could contain the remains of many missing persons.
HPD spokesman Victor Senties told the Chronicle that department divers were aware of almost all the vehicles, with the exception of two.
"We met with Mr. Miller two years ago and spoke with their sonar expert," said Senties. "We looked at all the images, we had long been aware of most of the vehicles."
Senties said most of the cars have been there for years, possibly decades.
"How many could be an Alzheimer’s victim or a guy that was drunk-driving off the road or how many could be homicide? I guarantee there's going to be bodies in some of these cars," Miller said.
Senties said the vehicles have been checked and there are no bodies inside.
"It has been looked into," Senties said, adding that it “would be impractical” to get vehicles out of the more remote areas.
Miller disagrees. He plans to go before the Houston City Coucil this week to present a plan to exhume the vehicles. He says Equusearch has the equipment to remove the cars intact.
"We would want to get divers in and dive every single vehicle and get license plates numbers and see if it's stolen or missing person," he said.
Robby Robinson, field operations manager for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, was not surprised at the number of vehicles found in the highly accessible waterways.
"They have oil and gasses emitting out of them that are probably still coming out of them," Robinson said, adding that he would help “any way that I could” to clean up the bayous.