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COLUMBIANA Divers continue to search lake for missing woman



Published: Fri, July 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Search efforts were hampered partly by poor visibility on the lake's bottom.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

GUILFORD LAKE -- Authorities are undertaking a third day of searching a lake that they say could hold the body of Tracy Hill, a 24-year-old Middleton Township woman last seen June 7.

"The divers feel sure that there's something out there," Columbiana County Sheriff Dave Smith said this morning.

"Out there" is a 20-foot-deep section of 400-acre Guilford Lake, which is part of a state park of the same name.

Divers spent much of the day combing the lake's dark waters, hoping to find an object detected there earlier in the week.

Around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, two divers bumped into what they thought was a body beneath the surface after cadaver-sniffing dogs aboard boats had detected a scent a few hundred yards from a campground.

With daylight diminishing, the spot was marked with a buoy and authorities returned there after 8 a.m. Thursday.

Second effort: They ferried a dog to the spot marked by the buoy, and it immediately picked up the scent detected Wednesday.

Divers went into the water about 10 a.m. but couldn't relocate the object.

Smith explained that two divers would tether themselves together with a length of rope and walk along the bottom in hopes of encountering the object.

"There's zero visibility," Smith said of the conditions at the lake's bottom. "The search is being done by feel, foot by foot."

Besides poor visibility, searchers also are hampered because the cadaver gases the dogs are trained to detect can move through the water, making it more difficult to pin down their source, Smith explained.

About six divers from the Leetonia and Hanover Township fire departments searched the dark waters and by late afternoon, they were tired.

About five divers with the state park system were brought in from Cuyahoga County to relieve them so the search could continue into the evening. It was called off around 9 p.m.

Smith said today that another cadaver-sniffing dog that had not been at the lake previously was brought in Thursday afternoon, and it also detected a scent in the same area as the three other dogs brought to the spot.

The dogs' reactions are being taken by authorities as a strong sign that they are searching the right spot on the lake, Smith said.

"Seldom are they wrong," he said of the canines.

Canine aid: The help of the dogs and their handlers was coordinated by a county-based volunteer search and rescue group directed by Ron Wisbeth of Rogers, Smith said.

Also present during Thursday's search were representatives from the state parks, Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Columbiana County coroner's office.

In all, about 40 people were involved.

Authorities said they decided to probe Guilford Lake because Hill's estranged husband, Clifford, 32, was found there June 18 driving a car used by Mrs. Hill.

The car belongs to Mrs. Hill's mother, Linda Zoanne Evans of Holmesville, who told authorities Hill didn't have her permission to use it.

Clifford Hill has since been indicted on a charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and is being held in the county jail.

He has not been named a suspect in his wife's disappearance.




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