PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Washington County Sheriff’s Office announced human remains have been found inside a car submerged in the Willamette River in the Newberg area near Roger’s Landing.
The sheriff’s office said the car belonged to Ralph Brown, the former mayor of Cornelius who was reported missing nearly a year ago.
Dive crews at the scene initially told KOIN 6 News human remains had been found, but the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said none had been found. However, later Friday night the sheriff’s office announced human remains were located in the car.
Authorities said the Yamhill County Medical Examiner was on the scene to investigate, but could not immediately identify the remains.
Brown was last seen leaving his home in a Blue Nissan Sentra May 16, 2021. During last year’s search, Brown’s cell phone records indicated that he drove in circles for four hours within a 30-mile radius from home. Then, he disappeared.
A manhunt led by Washington County Sheriff’s Office never turned up Brown or his car and investigators were never able to track his cell phone. That’s how Jared Leisek of Adventures with Purpose, the dive crew that found the car, says he knew Brown’s car was somewhere underwater.
“We never gave up, we had that gut feeling,” Leisek said.
Leisek and his crew searched for the car 10 times in the past year, including three times at Roger’s Landing in Newberg. They searched the area Friday for the fourth time and the hunch Leisek said he had for months turned out to be right.
“Something that just kept drawing me back here and today was the day,” Leisek said.
As crews recovered the car from the river, Brown’s granddaughter, Megan Closson told KOIN 6 News “I’m just so thrilled we finally get the closure that we’ve really wanted for the past year.”
Diver Doug Bishop said “she’s very grateful but this is a mourning time for their family.”
In addition to serving as mayor, Brown also had a career as a teacher, administrator and coach in the Hillsboro School District.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year before he went missing. One of his adult children was able to reach him on the phone the night he went missing but said he sounded confused and was unable to describe where he was.
“I just can’t imagine in that moment what he was feeling at that moment coming in here and just what happened,” Closson said.
Closson is deeply thankful for Adventures with Purpose and while she will always miss her grandfather, she’s also thankful for closure.
“I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done, they never gave up on us,” Closson said. “He was a well-loved genuinely amazing man, and he is greatly missed for who he was and what he did for the community.
Washington County Sheriff’s Office said the investigation is ongoing.