Family hopes for closure after Port Lavaca man's body found (video)
July 14, 2012 at 2:14 a.m.
Updated July 15, 2012 at 2:15 a.m.
PORT LAVACA - After weeks of hunting, waiting and praying, the family of David Willoughby finally found peace Friday evening.
"It has been just an unknown thing. It is kind of a relief that he isn't missing anymore," his wife, Charlene Willoughby, said on Saturday. "It was not the way we wanted it to end up, but I'm glad that they found him because that put a lot of stress on family and friends - not knowing where he was."
David Willoughby, 52, disappeared June 26 while en route to Rockport. He was inside his white Honda Civic when rescuers pulled it from the Guadalupe River near Tivoli, about 19 miles from his home in Port Lavaca.
A Department of Public Safety dive team from Austin found the car while searching the river off state Highway 35, said Port Lavaca Police Lt. Brandon Riedel.
The team focused their search on that area, Riedel said, after police obtained phone records indicating Willoughby's last location. Using sonar, the dive team found a car in the murky water around 3 p.m.
At 7:30 p.m., Allan's Wrecker Service, of Victoria, pulled the car from the water with a crane. Willoughby was positively identified as the man in the car around 8 p.m.
Janet Williams lives by the river and highway. After the disappearance, she and her husband scouted the area, but never saw signs of Willoughby. She also did not hear or see anything the night he disappeared.
"My heart just sank when we saw the top of that car come out of the water," Williams said. "It is very scary. Until we know what happened, everyone is going to be on edge."
After Willoughby's disappearance, family and friends - even some strangers like the Williamses - started searching for him daily.
"We drove the roads on the path to Rockport, looking for a sign of departure from the road," Willoughby's brother-in-law, Michael Caughron, said. "We stopped at several of the waterways to see if we could see anything. Friends, family, police - we all drove it . We got out and looked, we traipsed through the woods. We looked at boat ramps down there. We didn't see anything."
Caughron said they had even checked where he was finally located.
Willoughby's mother, Barbara Willoughby, said the first two days were difficult for the family because they could not report him as a missing person. She said they felt pressure to find him.
"Everything they did was spot on, they did an exemplary job," Caughron said of the police. "It was hard to wait that 48 hours to make sure he was really missing, because we knew he was. We knew he didn't run away. But that was what they had to wait for."
Riedel said the department put out an overdue motorist alert on June 27, after the family first notified police he never arrived in Rockport. Even before the 48-hour mark, however, police started looking.
"From the time that he was reported, the next day we started getting more and more concerned," Riedel said. "It may have been right at the 40-hour mark ... all three of our detectives jumped on this case."
The case is under investigation, Riedel said.
"We treat all deceased person cases as a crime until we prove it otherwise," he said. "That way, we cover the entire spectrum of that case. We don't leave any stone unturned."
The body was sent to the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office in Austin for an autopsy that will hopefully tell the family and officials something about what happened and when .
After watching the car come out of the river, Williams said she did not see signs of damage on the front end of the car.
"How did the car get in the river? There are no signs -- no tire tracks, no damage -- I've never seen anything, especially here, to indicate he left the road," she said.
With a job in offshore gas production, Willoughby worked two weeks, then had two weeks at home, his mother said.
"When he would come from offshore, he would call me," she said. "When he got in, he would come in the door the next day and would come give me a hug and a kiss. And before he left again, he always came by to give me another hug and another kiss."
Willoughby and his wife, who would have celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary in August, have two children, Colton Willoughby, 17, and Madison Willoughby, 13.
Charlene Willoughby said Colton came to her saying he should have paid more attention to his dad.
'Now, if something breaks, I won't be able to fix it,' Colton said to his mother.