2 bodies, car driven by missing NC teens found in water under I-20 bridge in Kershaw County

The StateOctober 28, 2012 

— State and local authorities on Sunday pulled a wrecked car and two bodies from dark water under an I-20 bridge that matches the tag number of a green Pontiac that carried two North Carolina teenagers missing for two weeks.

A ripped bumper and license tag that matches a 2006 Pontiac G6 recently bought by Jake Ziegler, 18, was found about 4:20 p.m. Sunday, said Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews and Highway Patrol spokesman Brent Kelly said from the scene.

Ziegler was traveling to Myrtle Beach with friend Ray Pierce, 17. Both are from Catawba County, N.C.

By 7:30 p.m., authorities had determined that two bodies were inside the car that was found in marshy water 200 yards west of the Wateree River, Matthews said. Authorities have not yet said the bodies are those of the two teens.

The state Highway Patrol was investigating because the wreckage appears to be the result of a traffic accident, Matthews said.

A diver from the Camden Fire Department helped secure the car to retrieve it and to determine if their were occupants, the sheriff said.

“Two bodies were found inside,” Matthews said.

About an hour later, the Kershaw County coroner was at the site to help identify the bodies, Matthews said.

Relatives, friends and volunteers have spent hours coordinating searches for the teens, including renting a helicopter to look for the Pontiac, hiring a private investigator, handing out missing-person fliers and driving hundreds of miles back and forth between the town of Sherrills Ford and Myrtle Beach.

Fairfield County, S.C., authorities spent two days last week walking and driving rural roads the teens might have traveled.

Ziegler and Pierce were driving to Myrtle Beach to watch a sunrise over the ocean after others that were to be on the trip backed out, their families and officials have said. Ziegler was excited about his new car and the road trip to the beach, his father, Zig Ziegler told The Charlotte Observer.

“He was test-driving his freedom,” the elder Ziegler said. “He wanted that little touch of freedom.”

The Bandys High School seniors were last seen about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 13 when they left a party in Catawba County after attending a high school football game. Ziegler and Pierce told friends they would be home in time for Pierce to be at his Denver restaurant job the next day.

The last known communication came at 2:44 a.m. Oct. 13 when Pierce sent a text message to his girlfriend. It said, “We’re almost at the beach.”

The electronic signal was relayed by a tower off I-77 near the 48 mile marker, Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department chief deputy Keith Lewis said about 10 days after the boys disappeared. By that time, Lewis said he was convinced the car was not in Fairfield County.

Matthews, of Kershaw County, said efforts by relatives and others resulted in narrowing the search site by electronic communications to where the car was found Sunday afternoon.

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