After finding car, police and dogs search for missing man in cornfield
BY KATLYN SMITH AND ELISABETH MISTRETTA email@example.com | @Katlyn_eSmith October 4, 2013 5:20AM
After a three-hour search of a Vernon Hills apartment complex on the 900 block of Westmoreland Drive and a nearby cornfield for missing Lake Villa man Nick Steward, police called off K9 units. | Courtesy of Brian Kestin
Updated: October 4, 2013 7:55PM
Roughly a dozen police and fire departments spent more than six hours Thursday searching a Vernon Hills apartment complex and adjacent cornfield for missing Lake Villa man, Nick Steward.
Thursday’s search began when police were responding to another call in the complex around 5:30 p.m. and an officer recognized a car in a nearby lot that appeared to belong to Steward, 33, who previously lived in Vernon Hills and graduated from Libertyville High School. The officer recognized the white, 2008 Saturn Aura from missing-person information previously distributed by Lake Villa police and Steward’s friends and family.
The vehicle looks to be in good condition, a Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said. Authorities have taken it to a secure location to search for evidence, and said its initial appearance does not indicate foul play.
Police combed the area until just before midnight, drawing a crowd of onlookers that remained for much of the evening.
Both police and fire officials focused their search on a massive cornfield, which is adjacent to the apartment on the complex’s south end and north of Abbot Laboratories. Approximately half a dozen K9 units searched the field for roughly three hours Thursday, then were called off at about 9:45 p.m. and left the scene completely 45 minutes later.
By 10:45, police brought an eight-wheel ATV into the field — which is separated from the apartment complex by a roughly 5-foot wire fence — and the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force returned to the site for a second time Thursday.
Both left the scene just before midnight.
Numerous law enforcement agencies also descended on the area throughout the evening Thursday, including the Lake County sheriff’s office, Lake County Forest Preserve Police, McHenry police, Linconshire police, the Countryside Fire Protection District and the Vernon Hills, Mundelein and Gurnee police departments.
Traffic on Westmoreland was funneled down to one lane in certain areas to accommodate the investigation.
Resident Stacy Schwager, 26, said the car looked “totally pristine and normal” from the exterior. She also said Steward’s car was parked abutting the cornfield.
Schwager and her roommate, Brian Kestin, 30, share an apartment overlooking the lot where the car was found. They said their neighborhood is not a high-crime area.
Kestin was listening to a police scanner when he heard of the investigation. He opened the apartment window to see officers cordoning off the parking lot.
“This is our tiny, little, quiet section,” Schwager said. “Stuff like this doesn’t happen here. This is insane.”
Steward was last seen Sept. 20 as he left his job at MC Machinery Systems Inc. in Wood Dale, where he works as a mechanic, and he was driving the Saturn Aura.
The Illinois Tollway Authority told police Steward’s car did go through the northbound Touhy Avenue Toll Plaza northbound on I-294 at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, and he also had a telephone conversation with his employer at about the same time.
Then about five hours later, at 10:28 p.m., his cellphone signal was tracked to the area of the 2700 block of South River Road near Des Plaines. Then the phone was turned off.
Steward’s disappearance sparked a massive, volunteer-run search designed to cover 225 square miles that stretched from Lake Forest to Wood Dale Sunday, Sept. 29.
A Facebook page, “Find Nick Steward,” also was set up with family photos of the married father of a young son.
His wife, Megan Steward, reported him missing after he didn’t return home from work. Earlier this week, she thanked the more than 100 volunteers that gathered for the search.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am just so stunned by the outreach and the support from the community and just everyone who has been just so wonderful to us,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll find something that will help us today and bring Nick home to us.”
Police could not be reached after midnight to confirm if they will continue searching the field Friday.