Kern County law enforcement has found the vehicle last seen being driven by missing former McFarland City Manager John Wooner, according to the Bakersfield Police Department.
The vehicle, a silver 2012 Dodge Durango, was found submerged in the Kern River on Saturday, along with the body of an unidentified man.
California Highway Patrol said in a news release that the driver of the SUV was traveling at an unknown speed and in an unknown direction on Highway 178 in the Kern River Canyon when the driver made an unsafe turning movement before the vehicle tumbled down the embankment into the river.
The vehicle was found about a mile east of a power station at the beginning of the canyon.
Investigators have not determined a timeline for the incident, but CHP Officer Robert Rodriguez said the vehicle was spotted after the river’s water levels dropped, allowing a passerby to see it from the roadway.
Sand and rocks from the river were found inside the vehicle, indicating the current had pushed debris into the interior over a period of time.
The man was found in the back compartment and was not wearing a seat belt, Rodriguez said.
Law enforcement officials first became aware of the vehicle in the river at approximately 1:33 p.m. Saturday, but attempts to extract the vehicle from the water were not successful until Sunday morning.
Wooner, who has been replaced as city manager due to his absence, went missing May 14 after visiting the gravesite of a relative at Hillcrest Cemetery in Bakersfield and calling his family, saying he was headed home.
Few details have been released regarding the disappearance of the former city manager, but law enforcement has said they believe it occurred under “suspicious circumstances.”
If Wooner is identified as the man located in the vehicle, it is unclear why he would have been driving through the Kern River Canyon. Voting records indicate Wooner lived in Bakersfield.
CHP is investigating the circumstances with the vehicle, while BPD is investigating Wooner’s disappearance.
The Kern County Coroner said in a report it would conduct an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death of the man found in the vehicle.
The man’s identity will be released pending a positive identification, the report said.
Anyone with information about the incident is urged to contact Bakersfield Police Detective Keith Cason at 661-326-3868.