More than a dozen cars pulled from the Ohio River in large-scale cleanup operation

CINCINNATI — For the first time ever, cars are being pulled from Ohio River in bulk.

The Hamilton County Police Association’s Underwater Search and Recovery Unit is partnering with nonprofit Living Lands and Waters in the nation’s largest cleanup effort to date.

“I know we’ve never had anything of this magnitude before,” CPD Interim Chief Lt. Col. Teresa Theetge said. “One of them maybe like a 1940s/1950s car. Doesn’t mean they’ve been down there since then, but probably been down there a while.”

Ever been on a barge? How about one dedicated to pulling junk from the water? The Hamilton County Dive Team is partnering with a river cleanup operation to restore the Ohio by recovering submerged cars. In four days, they’ve pulled 10.

It helped divers identify the cars and tag the cars, but without necessary equipment and machinery, they were not able to fish them out.

So, they partnered with Living Lands and Waters to do the heavy lifting.

“[They were] working and labeling them with a little buoy here and there, then we came to town with our excavator and operations here to then remove with the dive team as they go under and mark the cars for us to then pick up with our excavator.” said Callie Schaser, communications specialist for the nonprofit.

Their effort has been lucrative.

There’s 26 miles of Hamilton County shoreline, and in just four days, 10 cars have been pulled from the river.

With 14 total identified by divers previously, more will resurface in the coming days.

But while crews are spending a week working to preserve and restore the river, the weeklong operation, which started last Friday, is not only meant to clear debris.

Crews hope the sunken metal might also reveal a treasure trove of evidence.

“We’ll go to any lengths to solve a crime even digging up cars from the bottom of a river,” Theetge said.

HCPA Dive Team Commander Chris Fritsch said his unit’s main goal is to help with criminal investigations, hoping some of the recovered vehicles could offer leads in cold cases, missing persons and missing or stolen vehicles that have not been found.

Some of these cars have been in there 30, 40, 50 years and when they’re in the water that long they’re very very difficult to identify and figure out why they were out there,” Fritsch said. “Cincinnati’s investigative services unit can run the VIN numbers, look into the vehicles, get a better view from the top side of the water.”

The operation ended Friday, but Fristch said recovery efforts from the river will continue.

“From the bank, 160 feet towards the center of the river has been covered,” he said. “Obviously more objects or vehicles could have floated out farther into the river so that makes it more challenging and that’s why this is an ongoing project that we need to work on to be fully that we’ve covered it all.”

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