Body of missing trucker believed found in rig submerged in canal

| 3/16/2006

Police in Florida believe they’ve found the body of a trucker who’s been missing for nearly two months.

Thursday, March 9, workers using a backhoe struck a hard object below the water’s surface in a very wide and deep canal near South Bay – at the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee.

Police told “Land Line Now” that the object was the trailer of a big rig driven by 35-year-old Kenneth Conceicao of South Plainfield, NJ, who was last seen picking up a load of mulch on Jan. 20 in Boca Raton, FL. The trailer and tractor were recovered. And while police believe the body in the cab was Conceicao, the coroner is awaiting dental records for positive identification.

Boca Raton Police Det. James Giumenta said officials believe Conceicao was northbound on U.S. 27 and tried to make a sharp right-hand turn onto a one-lane bridge that crossed the canal, which has about 35 feet of water in it at that particular area.

“We don’t see any type of indication that this particular incident was in fact a deliberate incident,” Giumenta said Thursday, March 16, adding that there is no evidence to suggest foul play or suicide.

Deputy Bill Wright of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office is investigating the incident as a fatality accident.

“For some unknown reason, that will probably (remain) unknown, it would appear that the driver decided for whatever reason to make a very tight right turn – we believe he was going north – onto this access bridge,” said Giumenta. “Unfortunately the way the tractor-trailer is designed, it’s not designed to make such a turn at such an angle, and he just had the back end go off the edge of bridge ... still loaded with mulch ... it pulled itself into the canal and ... pulled the cab into the canal.”

The canal’s deep, dark, murky water completely concealed the submerged tractor-trailer. Giumenta said you can’t see more than a foot below the water line. Divers at the scene took flashlights into the water with them, but the water was so murky that they couldn’t see the lights even when they held them right in front of their masks.

The canal is one of several in the area and is used to irrigate sugar cane fields along the four-lane highway, which is divided by grassy medians and edged with guardrails. Giumenta said the canal stretches across three counties, is about 100 feet wide and ranges in depth from 20 to 35 feet.

One-lane access bridges connect U.S. 27 to the cane fields and are primarily used by farm vehicles.

According to The Associated Press, when he went missing Jan. 20, Conceicao was making his third trip of the day delivering mulch to a sugar cane processing plant where it is used as fuel for a power plant.

– By Reed Black, staff writer