The Metro Parks crew trying to pull a submerged car out of Wapato Lake stopped Wednesday afternoon to come up with a better plan.
They’d towed a dock to the beach near the car. They had a Bobcat on shore. They had a sturdy chain with a hook at the end. And they had Josh Azinger in a rowboat, trying to hook the car visible about a yard under the surface.
They did not have a swimmer in the water, which the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is monitoring. Until July 25, the lake had been unsafe for fishing or swimming because of toxic algae. Since then, it’s been unsafe for swimming because a treatment intended to bind phosphates in the water and carry them to the lake bed went horribly awry. A contractor pumped the wrong mix of alum solution and sodium aluminate into the lake on July 25. On July 26, the lake was perfectly clear, except for thousands of dead fish.
The park district is working on correcting the chemical balance in the lake, and it’s removing all the detritus that became visible in the overnight clarification. It has sent people out in boats to snag bikes, shopping carts, televisions, skateboards and trash cans.
"Last week, that fellow over there came up with a prosthetic leg," Tony Council said, pointing at Azinger.
Maybe it was a mannequin leg, Azinger said later. Either way, it was creepy.
The car has been the big mystery, Council said. He and his son, Tamar, 10, have been waiting to see it come out of the water. Tamar is an auto enthusiast with an encyclopedic knowledge of car parts.
Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, Azinger hooked the bumper, the Bobcat pulled, and something white shot to the water’s surface.
"They got the bumper," Council said.
"That’s a Honda. It looks like a Honda," Tamar said of the foam bumper liner.
On the next pull the slimy bumper cover came out, complete with Oregon license plate ZUM 409, renewed in November, 2005. Tamar was right. It was a Honda, apparently white. Crew boss David Horstman phoned the license number in to the police so it could be traced.
Among the spectators, Jim Guthrie and Bonni Parker wondered how the car got so far out in the lake, sideways from the shore with doors and windows closed.
Years ago, when the lake froze, teens would drive on it, Guthrie said. But the lake hasn’t frozen lately.
Perhaps, they thought, someone stole the car, gunned it toward the lake, jumped out and slammed the door, and the car floated for a while.
Crew member Eric Johnson hoped no one got lost and drove in.
The Bobcat backed up, and the chain went slack.
"Well, they lost the hook," said freelance videographer Tito Brown.
They’d bent it earlier, and reshaped it. Now it was just gone.
Time for lunch, and a better idea, Horstman said.
The Health Department might okay the lake for swimming, and someone could snorkel down to the car. A towing company might have better equipment. Someone else might have a better idea. But keeping a crew trying in vain all day would be a waste of taxpayer money.
Horstman will let us know when they try again, and we’ll let you know.