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'Road Ends': Car stolen in Groton turns up in East Lyme lake

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East Lyme — A car was recovered from Powers Lake on Tuesday evening after being reported stolen from Groton City early that morning.

The 2018 Kia Forte was pulled from the lake about 5 p.m.

Lt. Michael Macek of the East Lyme Police Department confirmed there was no body inside the car. He speculated the driver had gotten out on the dirt launch area and let the vehicle roll in neutral into the lake, where it floated "to its final resting place."

East Lyme resident Bob Dubreuil said he noticed the roof of the submerged vehicle while he was driving by the state boat launch.

He said he swung by "like I usually do just to check out the scenery and take a minute," he said.

The car was a barely visible white rectangle a few feet underwater.

Dubreuil called over to another man who was walking a dog near the boat launch to see if he saw it, as well, he said, "And he did."

Dubreuil drove to the Flanders Fire Department to report the car in the lake about 2:23 p.m., according to Macek. The report put in motion a response that included the fire department as well as police, East Lyme Ambulance and state Environmental Conservation police, along with dive teams from Connecticut State Police and Old Mystic Fire Department.

The Flanders ladder truck was extended over the lake to assess the scene from above. Macek said three firefighters went out on a float upon arrival for an initial look, which is how they determined the license plate number.

The car was reported stolen at 4:16 a.m., according to Groton City police.

The Old Mystic dive team arrived first but deferred to state police, with two divers going in about 4:45 p.m. as temperatures dipped from the low 40s to the high 30s. They checked to make sure there was nobody in the vehicle before one of the divers came back to get the cable from the responding tow truck to hook up to the car.

The clean, white Kia emerged slowly, gushing lake water and items like a children's shoe, a larger boot, plastic bottles and a headrest from the open passenger door. It came to a rest on the dirt boat launch in front of a "ROAD ENDS" sign.

Macek said state EnCon police would be doing an inventory of the contents of the vehicle. He said his conversation with the owner of the vehicle revealed the key fob was missing, though it's not clear if the fob had been left in the car when it was stolen.

There was a child's car seat and toys in the car, and a microwave in the trunk.

"Holiday shopping, everyone's hectic," Macek said, surmising the fob could have been dropped or left behind inadvertently.

While car thefts statewide were down 10% from 2010 to 2019, a report from the nonpartisan, university-based Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy cited a significant increase across the state's smaller municipalities. In towns with less than 25,000 residents, police reported a total of 536 auto thefts in 2010 compared to 671 in 2019 — an increase of 25%. Preliminary data from last year indicated the trend continues, according to the report.

The report shows juveniles accounted for 36% of motor vehicle theft arrests last year. The issue has become contentious at the state Capitol, where Republicans say it's a fundamental flaw of the state's justice system that juveniles can repeatedly steal vehicles without much consequence while Democrats say the answer to the problem is in more robust social services so youth don't resort to crime.

Dubreuil wondered why the car ended up in the lake, which is near the 15,000-acre Yale Outdoor Education Center and the Nehantic State Forest. "I don't know why they would come down here," he said. "But anyway, it's all guesses."

East Lyme police Chief Mike Finkelstein told The Day earlier this month it's difficult to determine how many auto thefts are carried out by juveniles because so few arrests are made.

"The vast majority are just found abandoned," he said of the stolen vehicles.

According to the Pew Research Center, auto theft is the most likely crime to be reported and the least likely to be solved.

Groton City police said their investigation into the stolen car is ongoing.

e.regan@theday.com

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