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Coroner: Bone found in missing SUV belonged to an adult

Authorities may not be able to get DNA results from bone
Delhi Twp family search Ohio River SUV
Delhi missing persons case stephanie nguyen and children
Posted at 12:52 PM, Oct 19, 2021

AURORA, Ind. — The bone found in Stephanie Nguyen's Nissan Pathfinder belonged to an adult and was the only human remains in the vehicle, according to Dearborn County Coroner Cameron McCreary.

McCreary said on Thursday the left fibula, which was sent to a lab at the University of Indiana, may not contain any traceable DNA. The Pathfinder, which was at the Dearborn County Coroner's Office, is now at an Indiana State Police impound lot.

Nguyen, from Delhi Township, went missing in 2002, along with her two children. Law enforcement found her vehicle in the Ohio River on October 14, the first clue in the missing persons case since Nguyen, her daughter and her son disappeared in April 2002.

WCPO: Authorities discover SUV connected to 2002 missing family case

Dr. Cheryl Johnston, a forensic anthropologist with the University of Cincinnati, said on Tuesday she wasn't surprised there were human remains inside, despite the SUV being submerged for over 19 years.

Johnston isn't one of the forensic anthropologists working on the case, but she said bones are tough and preserve well, even in water.

"In Ohio we have pretty good preservation because of the soil chemistry here," Johnston said. "So I wouldn't expect the bone to be dissolved or anything after 20 years in water. Sometimes it can be made a little less solid."

She said it's unclear whether the bone could still contain DNA, but said the team at the University of Indiana will test for that and a bio-profile will be created.

"There are a lot of different ways that time of death can be estimated, the sex of the individual can be estimated, how tall they stood in life," Johnston said. "What their ancestral background was. Any kind of trauma or pathology usually can be examined."

Law enforcement found the vehicle using side sonar scan technology, which discovered it 55 feet below the surface of the Ohio River.

Delhi Township Police Lieutenant Joe Macaluso said the case always bothered him. Retired Sgt. Bob Schwaeble said on Friday that he wasn't sure the vehicle would ever be found.

"It was a very emotional case, because it involved small children," Schwaeble said. "I thought the only way that she might be found, or the vehicle found, was if they dredged the Ohio River. I'm just glad that it's finally closed. That we found the vehicle. We just got lucky."

The case never escaped the minds of those at the department. With the case approaching its 20th anniversary, Officer Heather Taylor considered a new search near Lesko Park in Aurora, Ind., around nine miles from Rising Sun Casino.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Hamilton County Police Association deployed side sonar, which gives horizontal views of river beds. In the Ohio River off Lesko Park, they discovered two cars and one SUV below the river's surface. Divers were able to confirm that the license plate matched Nguyen's Nissan Pathfinder before the vehicle was pulled from the water on Thursday evening.

Police gave no timetable on when they'll be able to have answers about the human remains, but investigators from the Delhi Twp. Police Department hope the discovery gives families and those in the community closure.

"People still care," Macaluso said. "I think I speak for most law enforcement, if not all law enforcement out there – we care, we want to find people, we want to find closure for family."