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Divers find lake a haven for stolen cars [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Special to the Post-Gazette
February 5, 1987

MORGANTOWN, WV— When divers searched nearby Cheat Lake for articles lost in a 1985 flood, they did not expect to find a veritable underwater parking lot.

“The cars were sitting right there on the bottom of the lake,” Kevin Koch said of 11 stolen vehicles—some from Western Pennsylvania—that he and a five-member dive team discovered recently. “They were in mud half way up to the tires, and there was no way you couldn’t tell what make the cars were.”

At a depth of 40 feet, the water was muddy and the divers could only feel around for the vehicles. Eventually, inner tubes were fastened to the cars and inflated with 1,500 pounds of air to force the vehicles to the top of the lake.

Cpl. A.H. Wade of the West Virginia State Police confirmed that Cheat Lake has become a favorite dumping ground for stolen cars, but investigations have produced nothing. He said the 11 vehicles, which disappeared from places in Pennsylvania and West Virginia between 1984 and 1986 could have been stolen and dumped, or concealed in the murky waters as part of insurance fraud schemes.

Given their location in the lake, the vehicles were apparently shoved off a two-lane bridge that had no guardrail. The span crosses a quiet backwater of the lake.

Police records are sketchy, but the first two of the recovered vehicles were reported stolen in November 1984—one from a parking lot in Pittsburgh, the other from near Cheat Lake.

Four more cars were reported stolen in November 1985: one from West Mifflin, one from Washington, Pa., and two from Morgantown. Another five were stolen last year.

But cars weren’t the only things the divers unearthed. They also pulled up a safe belonging to Stanley Szott, a Pennsylvania lottery agent. It held $7,800 in sold and unsold lottery tickets, and was reported stolen in July 1985 from Szott’s business in Century III Mall near Pittsburgh. The sold tickets were relatively small winning bets he had paid out at his booth and was preparing to send to Harrisburg for his own reimbursement.

“Whoever stole the safe knew the lottery ticket business,” said Szott in a telephone interview. “They could have cashed in the winning $1 and $5 tickets, but probably knew we had reported their serial numbers when we were robbed. They would’ve been caught for sure. I guess they figured it wasn’t worth the risk.”


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.