Authorities in McDowell County say they found a wrecked car containing a womans body Monday, and believe its the body of a Belmont mother missing for more than seven weeks.
The N.C. Highway Patrol told reporters that the cars license plates match those of Elizabeth Stonger, 27.
Belmont Police Chief Charlie Franklin told the Observer that authorities have not made a positive identification of the body but are pretty sure it is that Stonger. Franklin confirmed that the cars plates matched those on Stongers vehicle.
Police had focused their search for Stonger in McDowell County because that was the last place her cellphone received a signal.
Sgt. Kevin Owens of the N.C. Highway Patrol said the discovery was made about 8:15 a.m. on Spooky Hollow Road, off U.S. 221. That is about 4 miles south of Interstate 40 and about 8 miles south of Marion. Its in a rugged, remote part of McDowell County, and the dead-end road is hilly and sparsely populated.
Owens said the car was found near a sharp curve in the road. Because of the steep terrain, he said, it was almost completely hidden.
Owens said the car was discovered after a neighbor noticed illegal dumping of gravel and asphalt at the site. The neighbor notified the property owner, who asked whether the neighbor had seen a car there. Earlier, the property owner thought hed seen a vehicle, and the two of them returned to the ravine and found the wreck, Owens said.
Owens said the car, a 1998 Chevrolet Lumina, had gone about 400 feet off the road and then down a 100-foot embankment.
According to Owens, the body was seat-belted and had clothing that matched the description of what Stonger was reported to be wearing the day she disappeared. He said numerous prescription medications were found inside the vehicle.
Authorities dont suspect foul play and for now are treating the wreck as an accident, Owens said. The body has been sent to the N.C. Medical Examiner in Chapel Hill for an autopsy.
We may never know why she drove here and picked that road, Owens said. But were doing the best we can to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Raymond Simcox, who lives on Spooky Hollow Road near where the wrecked car was found, said hed mowed grass in the area but hadnt seen anything.
Anyone unfamiliar with the road and driving at night could wind up in a ditch in a heartbeat, Simcox said. Its a strange road for her (Stonger) to be wandering around on. It doesnt make sense.
Stonger was last seen about 1:15 p.m. Oct. 14, when she left her job as a cashier at a Walmart store in Belmont. She drove away alone, waving to people she knew. She was driving a burgundy 1998 Chevrolet Lumina with N.C. license tags ABC 6609.
Police say her cellphone was last used that evening, near I-40 and U.S. 221 in McDowell County.
Authorities, friends and family members conducted several searches for Stonger, who has a 2-year-old son. On Nov. 9, a major search effort was conducted in the area where the car was discovered Monday morning. In addition to a ground search over a five-mile radius, the N.C. Highway Patrols helicopter flew over the area.
Search dogs also were used.
The CUE Center for Missing Persons also helped look for Stonger much as it did earlier this fall in the search for two missing Catawba County teens. Their car was discovered off I-20 east of Columbia. The teens died in the crash.
Stonger grew up in the Syracuse, N.Y., area and moved to North Carolina with her family about 10 years ago.
Family members said she didnt like to drive and seldom ventured far from home.