The sight of Erin Foster’s car being unearthed from the river in which it’s likely stood for 21 years was nearly incomprehensible for her father Cecil.
“It kind of seems like almost a dream,” he told Inside Edition Digital over Zoom after seeing video of a 1998 Pontiac pulled from the Calfkiller River last week.
Eight miles from Foster’s home in Sparta, Tennessee, the watering hole is a very familiar spot to Cecil.
“Me and my son have fished over it many times since she’s been missing,” he said. “I mean right over the car. But the water’s always real murky and stuff there and there’s no way we could have saw the car, anyway. I don’t think.”
Erin Foster, 18, and her friend Jeremy Bechtel, 17, disappeared on April 3, 2000 in Sparta, Tennessee.
According to a one-page missing person’s report filed by Erin’s parents, she and Jeremy left a party to pick up Erin’s brother at a pool hall, White County Sheriff Steve Page told Inside Edition Digital. After they took him home, she asked for permission to go back out again.
“That’s when they vanished,” Page said.
Cecil wasn’t home the day his daughter disappeared.
“I worked out of town in Thompson, Cincinnati, that week and so when I called home the next night, [my wife Leigh] told me Erin didn’t come home last night and I just kind of blew it off,” he said. “She talked about leaving and moving out before. I said, ‘She’ll be back in a couple of days. Try not to worry about it,’ and we kind of left it at that. [Erin] was 18 and she was very well aware of that, too.”
But Erin never made it back home. The authorities were alerted, and for two decades, investigators searched for the teens, going as far as Florida to find any signs that they were alive. The case eventually went cold.
That was until last week, when Jeremy Sides found Erin’s car underwater. He hosts the YouTube channel “Exploring with Nug.” He’s a scuba diver who aides in the recovery of lost or stolen property. He also brings closure to families.
“I’m lost. I’m lost for words,” Sides said.” I’m so glad I could find him. I’m so sad that that’s where they ended up.”
“I don’t have an easy way to say it,” Sides said in a video explaining what he discovered. “But uh, I found them, swear to God. I just dove the car. All the windows are up. It looks like they went around the corner and lost control and went off into the river.”
For years, Erin’s parents suspected foul play, having not the faintest clue as to what could have happened to her.
They don’t keep photos of their daughter in their house. “I just couldn’t stand to look at her constantly,” Cecil said. “I could think of her in my mind without having to see a picture. Seeing a picture…brings it right back. They were packed away and we just lived basically like she was dead and tried to make it through the day.”
But a sliver of hope still remained. They never created a memorial or grave site for their daughter, who had been working at Miss Marenda’s Tea Room at the time she went missing.
“I didn’t want to do that because we didn’t know if she was dead or not,” Cecil said. “I didn’t want to pretend she was dead and find out she wasn’t.”
All they could do was remember her. “She was beautiful, soft-spoken. Just like her pictures show,” Cecil said. “She didn’t have anything bad to say about somebody. She had lots of friends and she liked to have a good time. She was great. She was really great.”
Remains from inside the car have been sent to the White County Coroner’s Office for an autopsy. Authorities will work to positively identify the remains and a cause of death.
“I’m kind of numb about it. It’s been a way of life for so long,” Cecil said of living without answers. “There’s a sense of relief there but it still hurts there, too, but I don’t know if it’ll ever go away.”