Second vehicle recovered in Roanoke

Published 10:51 am Thursday, March 12, 2009

WINDSOR – What started as one investigation is now three.

A tip that prompeted law enforcement officers to search the Roanoke River led to the discovery of two vehicles that had been reported stolen. Now authorities are investigating those discoveries while Martin County law enforcement officials continue to look into the February 20 disappearance of Derrick “Guy” Spruill, 38, of Williamston.

Bertie County Sheriff Greg Atkins said he received a request from Martin County to search the Roanoke River after a tip came in about Spruill’s disappearance. Last Tuesday, a sonar sweep of the river led to officers finding two submerged vehicles about 120 feet off the end of Grabtown Road.

“Martin County received a tip that evidence in the (Spruill) case could be in the river,” Atkins said. “We went in to search the river to assist them.”

On Wednesday of last week, officers pulled a 2004 Dodge Stratus from the river that had been reported stolen in Greenville on November 3, 2007.

With knowledge the sonar had revealed two submerged automobiles, the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office began working again Thursday morning. The operation was soon abandoned because of conditions of the river.

“Cold water, zero visibility underwater and floating debris, but the biggest concern was the swift current,” Atkins said moments after the divers reached dry land Thursday. “The river conditions are just unworkable for the dive team.”

After a four-day hiatus, the search began anew Tuesday morning with officers from the Norfolk (Va.) Police Department Dive Team. Officers quickly located the sunken vehicle and within hours had pulled a blue 1998 Ford Explorer from the murky waters.

Neither vehicle was related to the missing persons case, however, officers are back to investigating other leads in Spruill’s disappearance.

While Martin County officials continue their investigation into the missing Williamston man, other law enforcement officers now have to work investigations into the two vehicles that were pulled from the river.

The Dodge Stratus was owned by a Bertie County person, but was reported stolen in Greenville on November 3, 2007. According to a police report filed by the Greenville PD, the vehicle was parked in a lot next to Outback when the daughter of the owner returned to find it missing.

The report further stated that no glass was found around the scene.

Investigator S.W. Outlaw of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles is now working the case in an attempt to find out how the vehicle ended up back in Bertie County after being reported stolen in Greenville.

The 1998 Ford Explorer was reported stolen from Cherry’s Service Center outside of Windsor on U.S. 13/17 South. The owner reported the vehicle stolen on May 16, 2006 and said the last time it was known secure was approximately 9:45 p.m. the night before.

Detective Sgt. Ed Pittman of the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office has resumed the lead role in the stolen car investigation. He said he would work with Outlaw to try to bring the case to some resolution.

While local officers begin work on the two stolen vehicles, Martin County officials will continue their search for Spruill. That case, however, is finished in Bertie County for the time being.

“Unless we receive another call from Martin County about the case or find information in Bertie County, we have completed our part of the case,” Atkins said. “We’re available for whatever help we can provide as always.”

The Bertie County Sheriff was also thankful for those who provided assistance for the recovery. They included the Norfolk Police Department Dive Team, the Sidney Dive Team, the North Carolina Forest Service and the Atlantic Beach Police Department.

“We appreciate all the assistance we received,” Sheriff Atkins said. “Without their help, we wouldn’t have been able to get the vehicles up from the river.”