Jeremy Vreeken – Staff Writer
Last month, excavating crews in Alton, Iowa dug up a little more than they bargained for. Early in the morning on December 5, 2013, while crews were draining the Robert M. Dunlop Wildlife Area pond in Alton, they were surprised to find a stolen car submerged under the water.
According to The Northwest Iowa Review, a newspaper out of Sheldon, Iowa, Cleveringa Excavating, who was in charge of the project in Alton, discovered the car and called the police. After the Sioux County Dive Team had searched the car for bodies, the crew from Cleveringa attached a cable to the car and pulled it out of the pond. The whole event was quite a shock for Chad Cleveringa, owner of Cleveringa Excavation.
“You don’t expect to see a car out there at 7 in the morning when it turns to daylight,” said Cleveringa.
The car that emerged was a blue 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity Wagon. In an interview with The N’West Iowa Review, Orange City Police Chief Jim Pottenbaum revealed that the car in question had previously been owned by Dordt College.
“Once we got the vehicle out, we ran the plate and found out that the vehicle was stolen from Dordt College back in 1999,” Pottenbaum said.
When the car was owned by Dordt College, it was employed as the Campus Security car. Student security guards used the car to get around campus and respond to calls. Dordt alum Zaur Gassanov, who worked security while attending Dordt in 1999, told The N’West Iowa Review that the car had a history of being taken.
“Usually, it would be kind of a prank thing where they would find it in a day or so,” Gassanov said. “That time around, we went without a car for a couple weeks.”
For being under the water for close to 15 years, the car was actually in pretty good shape. There was no evidence of the vehicle being heavily damaged before it was discarded. Orange City police officer Duane Hulstein said it looked like the car was put in gear and allowed to drive off into the water on its own.
“The shift gear was still in drive and the key was forward,” Hulstein told The N’West Iowa Review. “We’re assuming they started it, put it in gear and drove it right off the edge of the water. We didn’t find anything like the gas pedal being wedged down or anything like that.”
Director of public relations, Sonya Jonsgma Knauss, didn’t offer any more details than to say that they were glad the car had finally been found.
As to the identity of the security car thieves, that remains unknown. Gassanov remembers a lack of evidence surrounding the incident in 1999, leaving the task of finding those responsible difficult.
“I don’t think anyone had any solid leads. There was some rivalry going on back then with Northwestern. We thought maybe some folks came in from Orange City to take the vehicle,” said Gassanov.
Sioux Center police officer Jaymie Harper remembers being on duty on March 10, 1999, the day the car was stolen.
“We never did find out who took it. We’re assuming it was college kids. We figured they were just pulling a joke,” Harper told The N’West Iowa Review.
Harper believes that there is someone, somewhere who knows how the vehicle came to rest on the floor of the Alton pond, but until they come forward, it will remain a mystery.
“I’m assuming there’s a group of college kids that sit around and still laugh about taking that Dordt car,” said Harper. “There’s got to be somebody out there.