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2006-07-20 07:58:26

Businessman Found Dead

Police were unable to determine whether there were any signs of physical injury or foul play.

After several days of intense investigation into the disappearance of Grand Bahama businessman Preston Stuart Jr., police were led to a canal off Queen's Cove yesterday where a vehicle, believed to be his, lay submerged with a body inside.

Anxious to know if the vehicle in the canal belonged to the missing man, residents flocked to a secluded area in that quaint community. Hours later, a police dive crew and investigators finally managed to remove the burgundy Cadillac DeVille, bonded licence plate #37, from 15 to 20 feet of water with a black male body inside.

Police, however, have not officially confirmed the identity of the body as that of Stuart, pending positive identification by next of kin.

The well-known businessman was reportedly last seen on Saturday just before 3:00 p.m. and a missing person report was filed shortly before 1:00a.m. on Sunday morning. Stuart was reportedly wearing a blue golf shirt with purple and grey stripes, blue pants and white tennis shoes the last time he was seen and the Cadillac DeVille he was driving was also missing.

The 64-year-old businessman is the owner of Legends Sports Bar, First Atlantic Realty and Freeport Taxi Company Ltd. Authorities launched an island-wide search by land, sea and air for Stuart, but a break in the case did not come until Wednesday afternoon.

Assistant Police Press Liaison Inspector Loretta Mackey in a late evening briefing yesterday told The Freeport News that Stuart's car was spotted around 12:45 p.m. Wednesday by a search team in an aircraft. "They communicated with a team that was in the canal in the Queen's Cove area here in Grand Bahama and they directed them to an area where some of the divers went down," she said.

Inspector Mackey explained that the vehicle's appearance, and the absence of features such as moss, was an indication the vehicle had only recently gone there. It was identified as Stuart's by the plate number.

As news of the find spread, residents made their way down to the Queen's Cove area in search of the location. Family members, friends and associates also made their way down to the scene and at least two tow trucks, an ambulance and morticians from Restview Mortuary had been summoned.

Friends of Stuart who remained close to the scene waiting for any word declined any interview with The Freeport News, stating that they were not emotionally ready.

One man, believed to be Stuart's brother, became distraught while on his mobile phone seconds after coming on the scene and had to be assisted from the area.

Four police officers guarded one of the main entrances to the canal where investigators were and by 1:55 p.m. the police had moved in reinforcements with a busload of about 32 recruits. After repeated attempts, the police were successful in clearing the curious onlookers from the area and back to the main road with some of the recruits in tow. They created a human perimeter at the main entrance and the remainder of the recruits were utilised at the other two entry points closer to the track roads that lead to the canal.

At 2:55 p.m., a crane was brought in escorted by two police vehicles and taken to the site.

"Eventually, with the assistance of a crane, at 4:15 p.m., the car was removed from the water," said Inspector Mackey.

The male's body was discovered in the front seat of the vehicle after the doors were opened.

The body was lying face down and hunched over the seat with his head pointed to the rear of the vehicle, Inspector Mackey told The Freeport News.

A doctor was summoned to the scene and officially pronounced the man dead. The body, which was clad in a dark long pants, dark coloured shirt, black socks and white tennis shoes, was removed from the vehicle and transported to the morgue at the Rand Memorial Hospital.

Police were unable to determine whether there were any signs of physical injury or foul play as the body was in the early stages of decomposition, Inspector Mackey revealed.

While police continue their investigation into this incident , an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of the man's death.

By: LEDEDRA MARCHE, The Nassau Guardian

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