The car that a missing Coeur d’Alene businessman was last seen driving almost four months ago was found Saturday in Lake Coeur d’Alene with a body inside.
Authorities didn’t immediately know whether the body was that of Dale F. Nelson, 49, who disappeared Jan. 20. Kootenai County sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger said due to decomposition, the person inside the vehicle would have to be identified through autopsy this week.
“We’re processing it like a crime scene until we can prove otherwise,” Wolfinger said.
The car was found about 3:30 p.m., but it was hours before sheriff’s divers could even confirm a body was inside the vehicle because the murky water limited visibility. Buried in silt, the car was upside down in about 40 feet of water in a trench at the end of the Higgens Point boat ramp.
Nelson is the owner of J and D Stereo. Employee George Booth told Coeur d’Alene police that Nelson left work around 5:30 p.m. Jan. 20, and the two were supposed to meet for dinner at Eduardo’s Restaurant.
He left work in a red 1999 Honda Civic with dealer plates – the same car found in the lake. After Nelson failed to show up for work, Booth and another employee reported him missing.
The car initially was found by a diving instructor and a diver in training, Wolfinger said. Because the water drops off deeply just past the end of the boat ramp, it’s a popular place for divers, he said.
The car was even with the end of the docks, about 80 to 90 feet from the water’s edge and directly in line with the boat ramp, Wolfinger said.
The amount of sediment covering the car indicated it had been underwater for some time, Wolfinger said. To bring the vehicle to the surface, officials may use a crane on a barge, or use air-filled bags to float the vehicle, then use a tow cable to pull it out of the water.
Access to Higgens Point, a popular recreation area, was cut off following the discovery of the car. Bicyclists, boaters and hikers out enjoying the warm weather weren’t allowed past a sheriff’s car blocking the road.
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