POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Divers from a popular YouTube channel discovered a vehicle in a Lakeland retention pond Wednesday, which led to a death investigation involving a missing person’s case after deputies found a body inside.
The group “Adventures with Purpose” is a sonar search and recovery dive team based out of Oregon. Its members travel the country trying to locate missing vehicles and, in turn, missing people. The team has 1.7 million subscribers on its YouTube channel where videos showcase their discoveries using state-of-the-art sonar equipment.
“We specialize in cold cases that people are missing and missing with their vehicle. We have a very unique ability to find vehicles underwater the way agencies necessarily do not,” head diver Doug Bishop said.
The team is currently on a 45-day “winter trip” through several southern states.
Divers, production crews and other members of the team spent two days in Lakeland, searching for the Kia belonging to Margaret “Jan” Shupe Smith, who went missing last April.
They searched several bodies of water in Lakeland Tuesday. They found two trucks in Lake Christina, they say, but did not find Smith’s vehicle.
“We were searching all over across Lakeland and we couldn’t find anything in those bodies of water and then we were tipped off by some law enforcement that she actually got in a car accident around this area,” executive producer Carson McMaster said.
Law enforcement responded to a car crash in north Lakeland involving Smith on the same day she was reported missing, though the report had not been filed yet, according to the sheriff’s office.
When “Adventures with Purpose” learned this new development, the team looked for bodies of water in the area, which led them to Victoria Road and a new housing development called “Hunter’s Crossing.” The retention pond was there in April 2021 but there were no homes.
“These houses were under construction. We moved here in August, we settled. Most of these people started settling in July or August,” said Judy Heath, who lives nearby.
The dive team found the Kia within 30 minutes of arriving on scene Wednesday.
“The vehicle is actually just resting 18 inches below the surface level. The water table never reached low enough that the vehicle could be revealed,” said McMaster.
After finding the vehicle, the team called the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s not anything that [law enforcement agencies] lack. It’s just – if they don’t have anything to go off of, they have to justify their resources. We don’t have to justify anything,” explained Bishop.
Law enforcement pulled the car out of the pond and discovered the body inside. It has not yet been identified.
More information is expected to be released on Thursday.
Smith’s family tells News Channel 8 the discovery was shocking and upsetting but they are glad they may have some closure.
“You want to provide the family with answers. We never say closure but it’s the answers that they need so they can finally mourn and move on,” said McMaster.
“It’s an honor to provide a family with answers. Really it is, it’s an absolute honor that’s the best word,” Bishop added.