No one inside car pulled from Kalamazoo River

Battle Creek officials: Cortez Lewis of Detroit thought to be driver

Kalamazoo River, Battle Creek, car in water
Crews work to recover a car from the Kalamazoo River in Battle Creek. (May 12, 2017)

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Crews on Sunday pulled a sedan from the Kalamazoo River in Battle Creek more than a week after it went into the water.

The Hyundai Sonata is thought to have entered the river along Dickman Road east of Capital Avenue around 4:30 a.m. Saturday, March 4. It was recovered near Hamblin Avenue, not far from where the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek rivers meet — about half a mile from where it went into the water.

Police believe Cortez Lewis of Detroit may have been behind the wheel of the car, which his girlfriend had rented. She reported him missing on March 5.

Lewis is still missing — officers told 24 Hour News 8 no one was inside the car.

“Where the person could be at this point, we can’t say for certain,” Battle Creek Fire Department Chief David Schmaltz said, adding there isn’t much more emergency responders can do to actively search for the driver and that hopefully a citizen will spot something that will lead them to him.

He said the back window of the car was broken out, but the others are intact. The car also has severe front-end damage.

Officials said fishermen in a boat spotted the car’s bumper and license plate underwater Sunday afternoon. Schmaltz said crews hurried to the scene, confirmed the location of the car and then decided that they would have time to recover it before it became too dark.

A crowd of several dozen people gathered along the bank to watch crews work. In addition to BCFD and Battle Creek police, teams from Emmett Township, Calhoun County and LifeCare Ambulance responded. Three private companies — Buck’s Crane Service, Tigers Towing and McClaine’s Towing Service — brought in heavy equipment to haul the car from the river.

Schmaltz said a diver who went into the water to attach a cable to the car had to fight a strong current. He had to wedge himself into the car’s trunk — which was open — in order to get the line attached to the back left tire area. That process took about 10 or 15 minutes.

“When it’s an operation like this, we want to take our time, we want to go slow because we want to make sure all the responders are safe,” Schmaltz said.

Crews thought they had located the car a week ago in an underwater hole near the rivers’ convergence using a dive magnet, but conditions were so bad that neither divers nor a dive camera could check. Sunday, Schmaltz said he suspects the car was in that hole and that it became visible as the water level dropped.

The fire chief said the Battle Creek Police Department is handling the ongoing investigation. The car was taken to the police station to be processed by the BCPD crime lab.

Officials say Lewis, 31, has connections to Battle Creek. He was last heard from shortly before the car went into the river and a track of his cellphone also placed him in that area.

It’s still not clear what caused the car to end up in the river, but police said marks from its undercarriage leading toward the river make them think it couldn’t stop. Surveillance video from a nearby business showed it floating backward through the channel.

Schmaltz said the back of the car was facing downstream when it was recovered.

Crews conducted active searches for the car for days last week, but were hindered by dangerous river conditions, including a strong current. They searched about five miles downriver without success. On Friday, they postponed the search until conditions improved.

Lewis is described as a 5-foot-9, 195-pound black male with black hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information is asked to call BCPD at 269.966.3322 or Silent Observer at 269.964.3888.