KERSHAW COUNTY, SC — Two bodies pulled from a wrecked car in dark water under an I-20 bridge in Kershaw County have been identified as two North Carolina teens missing for more than three weeks.
Kershaw County coroner Johnny Fellers confirmed the identities of Jake Ziegler, 18, and Ray Pierce, 17, both of Catawba County, N.C. The teens were last seen about Oct. 13 when they left a party in the early morning hours with plans to drive from Catawba County to Myrtle Beach to watch the sun rise.
Zieglers 2006 Pontiac G6 was found in marshy water 200 yards west of the Wateree River around 4:20 p.m. Sunday by state and local authorities, Sheriff Jim Matthews said.
Fellers said the car ran off the road and down an embankment, ending up submerged in 10-11 feet of water. It appears a high rate of speed at night may have played a role in the incident, the coroner added Monday.
The car has been there since Oct. 13, the day the teens went missing, Fellers said.
An autopsy will be conducted Monday, he said. Tests also are being done to see whether alcohol played a role in the accident, though its unknown when those results will be available.
A diver from the Camden Fire Department helped secure the car to retrieve it and to determine if there were occupants, the sheriff said.
The state Highway Patrol also was involved in the investigation, because the wreckage appears to be the result of a traffic accident, Matthews said.
Relatives, friends and volunteers have spent hours coordinating searches for the teens, including renting a helicopter to look for the Pontiac, hiring a private investigator, handing out missing-persons fliers and driving hundreds of miles back and forth between the town of Sherrills Ford, NC, and Myrtle Beach.
Fairfield County authorities spent two days last week walking and driving rural roads the teens might have traveled.
Ziegler and Pierce were driving to Myrtle Beach to watch the sunrise over the ocean after others who were to be on the trip backed out, their families and officials have said. Ziegler was excited about his new car and the road trip to the beach, his father, Zig Ziegler, told The Charlotte Observer.
He was test-driving his freedom, the elder Ziegler said. He wanted that little touch of freedom.
The Bandys High School seniors were last seen about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 13 when they left a party in Catawba County after attending a high school football game. Ziegler and Pierce told friends they would be home in time for Pierce to be at his Denver, NC, restaurant job the next day.
The last known communication came at 2:44 a.m. on Oct. 13 when Pierce sent a text message to his girlfriend. It said, Were almost at the beach.
The electronic signal was relayed by a tower off I-77 near the 48 mile marker, Fairfield County Sheriffs Department Chief Deputy Keith Lewis said about 10 days after the boys disappeared. By that time, Lewis said he was convinced the car was not in Fairfield County.
Matthews, of Kershaw County, said efforts by relatives and others resulted in narrowing the search site by electronic communications to where the car was found Sunday afternoon.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.