Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand might be the first to admit that there is likely no one who will remember the story first-hand, but on the off chance that the Model-T Ford found in the river near Levee Park is connected to an unsolved crime or missing person, he's got to ask.
Photo courtesy of Winona County Historical Society
This old Overland did not fall into the Mississippi River from the high bridge in 1919, but is from the era of the Model-T Ford that was found in the river near Levee Park.
The vehicle was found during a training session on the Mississippi River in Winona on October 9. Keith Cormican, director of the nonprofit Bruce's Legacy, which provides assistance to local law enforcement and dive teams to recover drowning victims, was on the scene with special equipment to scan that area of the river. The "side scanner," which uses sonar to help identify objects below the surface of the water, picked up something unusual, and Cormican was soon headed back to Winona with underwater video equipment to get a better look.
"The current was screaming along pretty good," Cormican recalled of his dive to film the vehicle. "We actually had about six feet of visibility, so it was pretty easy to tell based on the passenger side, and the two wheels still on the vehicle. I could tell that this was definitely a very old car with spoke-style, narrow wheels."
After consulting with antique car experts, "There's no question in the world that it is definitely a Model-T, based on the wheels that we were able to see," said Cormican.
Ford produced Model-Ts between 1908 and 1927, which has made it difficult for law enforcement agents to produce records that might show an accident at that location. Because of the long time frame, Brand said he is hoping that someone out there remembers something about the old Model-T in the river, located near the Levee adjacent to Godfather's Pizza.
"We have people missing," said Brand of the mystery. It could be an accident, it could have been that the vehicle was parked there while its owner was ice fishing, and broke through the ice without an occupant. "Or, it could have been a homicide," said Brand. "My only concern is if there was a crime."
The vehicle is upside-down, partly buried under the sand and facing the current Highway 43 bridge. Cormican said that makes it difficult to tell if there is a body inside it, which is a question that will help law enforcement officials decide what is best to do with it.
Cormican has worked with dive teams and law enforcement officials for two decades, acting as a training instructor for the last 17. He started the nonprofit group Bruce's Legacy last spring as a way to assist local agencies in finding drowning victims. It is an issue close to his heart.
Keith Cormican's brother Bruce was working as a fireman in 1995 during the search for a drowning victim in Robinson Creek near Black River Falls. Three firefighters working at the scene were swept into a whirlpool; Bruce did not survive.
"This is always a tough issue when you have people in the water and you sometimes don't have the resources to find them," said Cormican of the mission of Bruce's Legacy. "Their families have to go to bed at night knowing that their family member is still in the water. Being able to help is a great feeling."
In an attempt to put the mystery to rest, Winona County Sheriff's Department officials have been poring over old photos and records, attempting to find any mention of a Model-T that entered the river in that area, or a missing person who might have been driving one. Brand urged anyone with information to contact his office at 507-457-6368.