Expert rules death an accident in case of man missing 15 years

Published 1:53 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2005

By Staff
NILES - After 15 years, a mystery about a man's disappearance has been laid to rest, along with his reamins.
The story began when Thomas Burns was reported missing by his family.
Burns of Stevensville, 28 at the time, was reported missing March 26, 1989. He had not been seen after getting off work at the former Look N Glass Lounge on Second Street in Niles.
When two Dowagiac fishermen, Dowagiac Larry Bjork and Jeff Ward were trolling for walleye in the St. Joseph River, just north of the Marmont Street boat ramp in Niles on Aug. 23, 2004, they found a car.
Even after 15 years submerged in the St. Joseph River, the Renault descriptive "Le Car" detailing, was visible on both sides of the vehicle.
The vehicle, held the decomposed remains of a subject, later through dental records, identified to be the vehicle's owner, Thomas Burns.
This week, forensic pathologist, Dr. David A. Start of Grand Rapids released the autopsy results saying the cause of Burn's death was accidental, asphyxia by drowning.
A review of this case by Niles City Detectives revealed no further evidence or leads, according to Captain James Merriman, Operation's Commander of the Niles City Police Department.
Merriman, one of the first to arrive on the scene after city police received the call about the car in the river, recognized the vehicle immediately and wondered if it would be that of the case of the unsolved Niles' disappearance.
Bjork and Ward put their boat in at the dock behind the old city police station and cruised all the way down past the Marmont Street boat dock, where, about 100 yards north, they spotted the car.
Niles City's Fire Department's River Rescue Unit immediately launched their vehicles and began looking for the car, which was located at about 5 p.m. Monday.
Clark's Service was able to remove the car from the river and onto the bank about an hour and a half later.
At the scene in August 2004, Niles City Police Chief Ric Huff said clothing description on the surprisingly-well preserved body matched that given by his family at the time of the disappearance.
Niles City Police roped off the area around the vehicle and crime scene investigators and detectives began their investigation, which now appears to be finally over.