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Human Remains Found in Car Submerged in N.C. Creek Likely Linked to 1982 Cold Case, Police Say

Police Chief Phil Rollinson tells PEOPLE the car was found by a man whose equipment was “designed to go into places boats can’t go"

<p>City of Washington/Facebook</p> Crowd watches as crews search for submerged vehicle

City of Washington/Facebook

Crowd watches as crews search for submerged vehicle

Authorities in North Carolina confirmed to PEOPLE that a car pulled from a river with human remains inside is believed to be connected to a 1982 cold case.

Crews found the 1975 Chevrolet Camaro during a three-day search of Jack’s Creek in the City of Washington earlier this month, according to CBS affiliate WNCT-TV.

Divers entered the water on Feb. 9 after a man found the car while searching the creek with a sonar scanner, ABC affiliate WTVD reported.

On Feb. 10, city officials confirmed that search crews were working to identify the submerged vehicle. They also shared photos from the scene, including some late-night images of crews pulling wreckage from the water.

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Washington Police Chief Phil Rollinson said the VIN on the vehicle matches the number of a vehicle that was reported missing in 1982, according to WNCT.

Three men — William Clifton, 30, David MicMicken, 24, and Michael Norman, 32 — were last seen in a 1975 Chevrolet Camaro that year after leaving a bar in the nearby town Chocowinity in December 1982, WNCT and WTVD reported.

<p>City of Washington/Facebook</p> Crews search for a missing submerged vehicle in a North Carolina creek

City of Washington/Facebook

Crews search for a missing submerged vehicle in a North Carolina creek

Jason Souhrada, who found the vehicle via sonar, said he wanted to help the families impacted by the disappearance find closure, according to NBC affiliate WITN-TV.

Rollinson tells PEOPLE the man’s equipment was “designed to go into places boats can’t go.”

“Jack’s Creek was along the route that they would’ve taken home, so I decided to put my remote-controlled solar boat in there because regular boats can’t access the area that I scanned,” said Sourada, of Myrtle Beach, per WNCT.

Bill Clifton’s daughter Lea Rose said her father had gone out to see his friends after he spent time seeing Christmas lights and Santa Claus with his family, according to WITN-TV. Sadly, she said, he “never came home.”

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Rose said the families wouldn’t be where they are today “without Jason taking time away from his family” to search for their missing loved one.

“It is very emotional for all of the families but it did bring a sense of relief and I know everyone is still grieving,” Rose said. “The grieving process is starting all over again for three families.”

Photos shared by the City of Washington show crews hoisting pieces of the vehicle, including an axel, out of the creek earlier this month.

Sidney Dive Team Captain John Scott Rose Jr. said the Camaro “was in such bad shape, it was hard to even identify that it was a vehicle at all," WNCT reported.

<p>City of Washington/Facebook</p> Axle of a car found submerged in a North Carolina creek

City of Washington/Facebook

Axle of a car found submerged in a North Carolina creek

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All of the human remains found inside the vehicle were transported to the medical examiner’s office in Greenville and later identified, Rollinson said, according to WNCT.

The chief also believes finding the vehicle “was something that needed to be done to give closure to these families.”

Authorities are still awaiting the result of “DNA testing on the remains recovered” from the vehicle, Rollinson tells PEOPLE.

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