Authorities searched in vain Wednesday for the driver of a stolen pickup truck that plunged into Agua Hedionda Lagoon in the middle of the night, flipped over and sank.
A witness made an emergency call about 12:45 a.m. to report seeing the vehicle careen down a hill and launch into the estuary in the area of Carlsbad Boulevard and Sequoia Avenue, according to police.
Three officers investigating the crash jumped into the water in an attempt to rescue any occupants of the truck but had to retreat to shore due to poor visibility and unsafe conditions, Sgt. Gil Beason said.
Lifeguards in scuba gear then searched the lagoon, and officers checked shorelines surrounding it, finding no one connected to the incident.
In the late morning, authorities used a crane to haul the unoccupied truck out of the water and loaded it onto a tow truck. Authorities determined that the pickup had been reported stolen in Oceanside on Tuesday evening, Carlsbad police spokeswoman Jodee Sasway told reporters.
Residents who live near the lagoon couldn't miss the Sheriff's Department's volunteer divers in the water Wednesday afternoon.
"You definitely don't see that that often,” said David Pearson.
Divers had to wait until after 1 p.m. for low tide in order to safely do their job.
"We're looking for anything that would suggest that this truck, when it went in, that this wasn't just an accident scene, that perhaps it was maybe a crime scene. So far, we haven't found anything,” said Deputy Craig Gottlieb of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department Dive Unit.
"It drifted with the currents from the east side of the lagoon to the west side of the bridge and was floating there. It was a very ominous feel and really creepy looking because we weren't sure if somebody was still in the vehicle,” said Drago Atanasovski, who was the original tow truck driver called out to the scene.
Drago’s company had to call a second tow company that had a crane to hoist the truck out of the water. When they plucked out the truck this morning, police didn't find anyone inside.
Surfer Jonathan St. Syr found a car seat along the beach and turned it over to police.
"I was just praying that there were no kids in there or no bodies were going to float up while we were surfing today,” said St. Syr.
Above the lagoon is a hillside that leads up to Garfield Street. Investigators believe the truck flew off the street, down the hillside and into the lagoon. The vegetation on the hillside was flattened.
"That is quite a fall. The whole thing is kind of crazy. Who's going to ghost ride their car off the cliff? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense,” said Pearson.
The registered owner of the truck is an Oceanside resident. When Oceanside police officers made contact, the owner reported that he left his keys inside the truck and that it was stolen last night from Oceanside.