Crime

Sonar company is credited with finding Toni Anderson’s car in the Missouri River

A two-person search company from Illinois used a fish finder with side-imaging sonar to help locate a missing Wichita woman’s car in the Missouri River.

Dennis and Tammy Watters, of Moro, Ill., own Team Watters Sonar Search and Recovery Team.

They were credited with helping authorities locate the 2012 Ford Focus belonging to Toni Anderson, a 20-year-old woman missing since Jan. 15. The car was pulled from the Missouri River alongside Platte Landing Park on Friday evening.

A body found inside the car is Anderson’s, The Star has learned. It didn’t appear that foul play was involved.

Anderson’s family confirmed the woman’s vehicle was pulled from the Missouri River near Parkville about 6 p.m. Friday.

“We just got the news — there’s a body in her car,” her mother, Liz Anderson, said after the discovery. “There is somebody inside.” Family members could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Kansas City Police Capt. Stacey Graves confirmed that the car belonged to Toni Anderson and that a female body was found inside. However, police have not publicly released an identification, pending a medical examiner’s report on the cause of death.

According to Watters, a fish finder transmits sound to create an image at the bottom of a body of water.

“If there is a car, you will see a car,” Watters said. “If there is a boat, you will see a boat.”

The company is funded by donations, Watters said, adding that they help law enforcement companies throughout the country with underwater searches.

The couple started the not-for-profit company in 2005 after years in the professional fishing industry.

Family members, Watters said, had information that Anderson’s mobile phone last pinged in the Parkville area.

The couple pulled into the Kansas City area at noon on Wednesday at the request of Anderson’s father. They met by phone with the Kansas City Police Department prior to their arrival.

“Within 10 minutes we had their blessing,” Watters said.

By Wednesday evening, they had located the vehicle.

“But we didn’t report it to law enforcement until Thursday morning because they were already gone for the day,” Watters said.

The couple met with authorities on Thursday and learned that divers were unavailable until Friday. The Watters’ continued to search lakes and ponds Thursday in the Parkville area because their discovery of Anderson’s car hadn’t been confirmed as her vehicle.

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The search, Watters said, was extensive but efficient.

“We searched ever lake and pond in the Parkville area in a day and a half,” he said.

Graves said Friday that investigators searched tirelessly for Anderson, including using sonar imaging techniques.

The vehicle was found in the water a few feet off the bank from Platte Landing Park.

The Missouri River is between 5 feet to 50 feet deep in places, Watters said. Anderson’s car was found submerged in nearly 21 feet of water.

Anderson was last seen Jan. 15 in Kansas City. She had just left her job around 4 a.m. and was on her way to meet friends at a location near downtown.

Later that morning, Anderson was pulled over by a North Kansas City police officer on Missouri 9 for an improper lane change. Anderson told the officer that she was almost out of gas. The officer gave Anderson a warning and watched as she drove to a nearby QuikTrip.

Anderson was alone in her car the last time she was seen. Investigators have video surveillance with Anderson but are not releasing it because it is part of their investigation.

Anderson’s 2012 Ford Focus was the second vehicle pulled from the Missouri River on Friday.

Earlier in the day, search teams from the Missouri Highway Patrol found an SUV under the water while conducting sonar checks, according to police. After crews pulled the vehicle out, police said it was not believed to be related to any Kansas City investigation.

Watters said authorities already knew about the SUV and planned to pull it out of the river before Anderson’s car was located.

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