Updated: Chief Lawrence Battiste has confirmed the body found in Vian’s vehicle was that of an adult woman. It could be several days before DNA testing can provide a definitive identification, though.
Updated: According to police and reporters on the scene, Vian’s car was officially pulled out of the water shortly before noon. It will now be transported to a second location for homicide and forensic detectives to continue their investigation.
Update: As of 11:42 p.m., an initial plan to bring the car to the surface has been unsuccessful. Police are currently waiting on a “boom truck” to assist divers working the scene.
Police divers are currently working to gather information on a submerged vehicle found Bayou Sara Thursday afternoon containing human remains believed to be missing Mobilian Daniella Vian – the 25-year-old mother who was last seen on July 17, 2018.
According to the Mobile Police Department, officers were conducting routine diving exercises in Bayou Sara on May 2 when they discovered a submerged vehicle. Upon further investigation, it was determined to be the Blue 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Vian was last seen driving.
LaDerrick Dubose, a public information officer, told Lagniappe that Bayou Sara is the location where the department’s divers typically train, though it’s unclear at this time how often that training takes place.
Thursday’s dive has provided investigators with a stroke of luck in a case that appears to have been at a standstill for months now. Battiste said that about a week ago, a Sargent on MPD’s team of divers was working to mark and map the area for future training when he noticed something strange.
After marking the location, he returned with members of the Saraland Police Department’s diving team and was able to determine the make and model of the car while it was still submerged. Working with MPD homicide detectives, that Sargent was able to match the submerged vehicle to the car in Vian’s missing person’s case.
While police have not confirmed the human remains inside the vehicle to be Vian’s, they have confirmed that it is her vehicle and that the body found inside is an adult female. Divers are currently working to methodically detail and photograph as much evidence as possible underwater before attempting to bring the car up.
MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste has not given many details but said it’s important to document the scene underwater before proceeding to move anything.
“I will tell you that there’s a lot of skill that goes into being able to go underwater and even see a scene. They’re able to relay that back up to the investigators, who will talk about how they want to proceed with bringing the vehicle up,” Battiste said. “We will be taking vehicle from here to a storage area and relocating it to an area that’s more secure and more sterile to continue our investigation.”
Earlier this morning, Battiste said divers didn’t begin efforts to bring the car up overnight because it could have disturbed evidence that couldn’t be photographed until daylight. Police have said that water just away from the boat launch drops off steeply to depths of about 20 to 30 feet.
According to Battiste, once the car is pulled from the bottom, sediment will distribute and make the crime scene murky, so divers have worked to photograph and document as much as possible ahead of time.
“As we go through this recovery process, the ultimate goal is to make sure that we preserve as much evidence as we possibly can,” Battiste said. “At some point, if we have to go into a courtroom, we want to make sure we can bring justice and closure to [Vian’s] family.”
At this point, it’s unclear how long it might take to bring the vehicle up to the surface completely, but the process was underway by 11 a.m., Friday morning. Battiste said he plans to provide another update to local media on the scene once it’s been successfully recovered and moved.
Vian was last seen at a Shell gas station off Government Boulevard on the evening of July 17 inside of the blue Chevrolet Cruze police discovered Thursday.
According to Google Maps, the gas station is about 20 miles from Sara Bayou’s public boat launch.
The MPD’s homicide unit has been investigating the case shortly after Vian’s disappearance.
A $2,000 reward for information about the case has gone unclaimed since last August. Vian’s family said from the beginning they didn’t think Daniella would have left on her own.
Vian’s daughter, Cora, was 4 years old at the time of the disappearance.
Though Vian’s vehicle is successfully out of the water, police have not released any new information about the identity of the person found inside of it, other than to say it appears to have been an adult female.
Battiste said investigators aren’t yet able to tell exactly how long the car may have been submerged, but he did note that it appeared to have “been there a while.” Because of the level of decomposition, he also said DNA testing could be required in order to definitively identify whose body it was.
In the meantime, police seem to be proceeding as if the body is or likely could be Danniella Vian’s.
Shanna Haden, who was a co-worker of Vian’s at Hurricane Grill and Wings, said Danniella’s friends and family never stopped looking for and would continue to seek answers about what happened to her.
“This is now the beginning… we have a starting point, and the truth will come out,” Haden said. “Whoever did this or knows about it can’t hide for long…it’s all catching up to them between the police department and the diligence of her friends and family. We will find out who did this and make sure that Danniella, Cora and her friends and family get justice.”
Updated at 12:30 p.m. to include a quote from Vian’s co-worker Shanna Haden
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