Three cars were pulled out of the Willamette River near the Keizer Rapids Park boat ramp over the July 9-10 weekend. Keizer Police Department knew about two of the submerged cars because they were in their records as stolen vehicles, but the third was a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle for which they have no record, as yet.
The cars were removed from the river as part of an effort to solve cold-case crimes, although no evidence has yet been discovered linking any of the three vehicles to a violent crime, and no human remains were found.
The group who found and recovered the vehicles is called Adventures with Purpose (AWP), and they travel the nation each year using high-tech sonar tools to scan lakes and waterways, then coordinates efforts with local government agencies and law enforcement to retrieve potential evidence for analysis.
Since 2019 when they formed their group, the AWP has helped solve 23 missing persons cases across the country and they host two-million-subscriber YouTube channel (youtube.com/AdventureswithPurpose) where they feature their completed and ongoing projects. Most famously, they solved a seven-year old case in Iowa when their divers discovered the body of a 22-year old submerged with his car.
Cold cases aren’t their only focus, however. Last February, they played a key role in recovering the body of Antonio Amaro-Lopez, a 57-year-old Portland man who drowned in his car. Lopez had only been missing for three days. In another local case they solved in May, they recovered the vehicle and body of former Cornelius Mayor Ralph Brown, who had been missing for less than a year.
Although the group works year-round in Oregon waterways, they schedule annual trips in their recreational vehicle, hauling all the necessary equipment from place to place for a season.
“In our Fall 2021 road trip, we worked 27 cases, looking for 36 people, in 20 states, in 44 days,” said Jared Leisek, one of the two men behind AWP.
The original idea belongs to Leisek, who began his YouTube site by filming himself using his diving skills and equipment to recover lost items and clear away garbage in Oregon waterways. After spending several months finding people’s lost phones and recovering more than 30 different submerged firearms, he began turning his attention to solving crimes. By 2019, he had formed a partnership with former tow-truck owner Doug Bishop, and the organization has continued to grow, since – regularly enlisting volunteers both locally and in other states to help.
The team uses a combination of down imaging, live scope and side sonar scans to develop a three-dimensional image of the objects they find, and then they plan a series of dives around it. Their deepest dive to date was in 100 ft. of water, but most of their work is done in comparatively shallow areas. They use a variety of different techniques to raise the vehicles depending on the conditions.
Bishop, who wasn’t a diver until he joined AWP, said he enjoys the work.
“It’s really intense but I love it,” he said. “We’re providing answers for families all across the nation.”