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Car of missing former Cornelius mayor found in Willamette River; remains found inside

Published: May. 13, 2022 at 4:33 PM PDT
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WASHINGTON COUNTY, OR (KPTV) – The car of a missing former mayor of Cornelius has been found with remains inside -- nearly one year after he went missing.

Divers from a private company located the submerged vehicle of Ralph Brown near Roger’s Landing Boat Ramp along the Willamette River on Friday afternoon. The company had been hired to search for any signs of the missing former mayor.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office later confirmed the vehicle was a match for the dark blue Nissan Sentra that Brown had left his home in on the evening of May 16, 2021. The State Medical Examiner will identify the remains found inside in the coming days, however, Brown’s family has been notified of the discovery.

“Today is very bittersweet for me and my family,” said Brown’s granddaughter Megan Closson. “It has been a long time coming waiting for someone to give us the closure that we have wanted about my grandfather.”

At the time of his disappearance, Brown’s children said the 77-year-old suffered from dementia and decided to leave his Cornelius home on his own. Months went by without any leads with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office saying in June 2021 there had been no confirmed sightings.

After months went by without any leads and several searches conducted, the family contacted “Adventures With Purpose,” a search and recovery dive team.

“We’ve been working on this case all year long. This will make our 9th search that we have done,” said lead diver Doug Bishop. “As in diving down and I make the discovery that it is his vehicle, no words can describe that. It’s a very powerful moment when I know I’ve identified his license plate, his vehicle, it’s just very powerful. That’s why we do what we do.”

Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office responded with their Special Investigation Unit and Marine Patrol responded after Adventures With Purpose notified them they believed they had located the vehicle. Yamhill County deputies said Adventures With Purpose provided a license plate they pulled off the submerged car. A Yamhill County deputy confirmed the license plate belonged to Brown’s vehicle he was believed to have been driving when he went missing.

“It’s very sad to see that this was the way that it ended, but at the same time we know he is in a better place and we are happy knowing that we have the answers we have searched for,” Closson said.

The area the vehicle was found on Friday is reportedly an area initial attempts to find Brown took place in 2021, the WCSO said.