Questions remain after police pull car connected to missing Wilmington couple out of marsh

WPD: No update until traffic investigation

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Days after police pulled the car Paige Escalera and Stephanie Mayorga were last spotted in from thick vegetation off of River Road, there’s still many unanswered questions.

The 911 call released Wednesday provides a more complete picture of what happened the night the women were last seen, but also raises more questions about how investigators failed to find the gray 2013 Dodge Dart on the night it crashed. Police didn’t locate the vehicle until 19 days later.

Police reports indicate the roommate last saw the women leaving their Kerr Avenue Apartment on April 15, at 9 p.m. The roommate didn’t report them missing to the police department for days because she thought you had to wait 72 hours after someone’s disappearance to file a missing person’s report.

Less than three hours after Escalera and Mayorga were last seen leaving home, New Hanover County 911 took a call from a truck driver who says they just saw a car crash into a group of trees.

“This is really serious...the car didn’t stop at stop sign it keep driving so fast, I was seeing it in my back mirror,” said the caller. “I’m on Independence... I’m behind already the intersection. I saw, in my left mirror, I saw the car disappear into a tree.”

Even though it was just before midnight, the 911 caller reported to officials that the car that crashed into the trees was grey. When police and EMS arrived on scene to investigate, they couldn’t find any sign of the crash.

According to CAD reports, the last entry from first responders came in eight minutes after officers arrived on scene. Investigators left the area after searching up and down River Road.

Police weren’t event notified Mayorga and Escalera were missing until April 19--days after officers responded to the report of the crash.

The police department first notified media of the missing case on Monday, April 27, in a press release.

The first press conference was held on Wednesday, April 29, when the case hit national news outlets.

LIVE: Police are giving updates on the disappearance of two women from Wilmington >> https://bit.ly/2YbiV0H

Posted by WECT News on Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Police say they located the grey 2013 Dodge Dart around 3 p.m. Friday, May 4. The WPD mobile unit was called to the scene, River Road was shut down and a tow truck removed the vehicle as the sun went down Monday. Just before 7 p.m., WPD announced two bodies were found in the car, but they have still yet to formally identify the victims, pending the results of an autopsy.

News Release Wilmington Police Department – River Road Tuesday, May 5, 2020 - 12:30 pm Wilmington, NC — Wilmington...

Posted by Wilmington, NC Police Department on Tuesday, May 5, 2020

No details have been released about what led to the crash, how the people inside died or how police located the vehicle.

Since the car was removed, people have visited the site of the crash to pay their respects and leave flowers, bears and candles for the people found in the car. The trees many believe were clipped by the Dodge Dart when it crashed into the thick brush are tied off with white ribbons in honor of the victims.

Police have yet to answer questions about how long traffic officers were on scene on the morning of April 16, what typical protocol is when officers are unable to locate a reported crash or if there’s any procedures in place for following up on reports of car crashes the next morning.

WECT has also reached out to county dispatch for additional data about unfounded crash reports in our area.

Wilmington police say they’re unable to comment on the case until the traffic investigation is complete. Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for the police department sent a statement noting WPD doesn’t plan on releasing any additional information this week, but hopes to hold a press conference next week to share the outcome of the traffic investigation.

“This is a tragic case, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions — not only for the media and for the public, but for investigators as well. The WPD Traffic Unit has been working to piece together what happened that night, as it appears the vehicle was involved in a high-velocity crash that ended in an area of thick vegetation. The two bodies found in the vehicle are undergoing an autopsy this week. Police are also looking into the 911 call placed on April 15,” a press release from WPD noted.

Officials have not yet released a date or time for that press conference.

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