October 16, 2003


Timothy Lopez

Legal action taken related to disappearance of Lopez

The investigation continues into the disappearance of Tim Lopez, who has been missing almost two years, the detective in charge of the case said this week.

“We’re following any and all leads,” said Detective Terry Swisshelm of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, which has been running the investigation since Lopez disappeared. The department continues to receive leads “here and there,” Swisshelm said.

Last week, a public notice was published in the Yellow Springs News stating that the Greene County Probate Court is being asked to “determine presumption of death” for Lopez, who has been missing since Jan. 22, 2002. On that date Lopez, an 18-year-old senior at Yellow Springs High School, was last seen leaving the school in the morning. His car was later found parked next to Grinnell Mill in Glen Helen.

The legal action, filed by attorney Craig Matthews on behalf of Edward McQuiston, Lopez’s grandfather, seeks the court action “for the limited purpose of disposing of an automobile,” the notice states.

Matthews said in an interview Tuesday that presumption of death can be made in situations where a person disappeared and no body has been found, but “the circumstances suggest that there has been a death.”

Although no specific evidence has surfaced indicating that Lopez is dead, it does not appear likely that he ran away, Matthews said, since his wallet and cellphone were found in his car.

When Lopez disappeared, his mother, Barbara McQuiston, and his girlfriend, Beth Burt, said there were no indications that Tim was depressed or suicidal. In a police report McQuiston expressed concern that her son may have met with foul play as the result of past drug use.

The public notice will run for four weeks in the News and the Xenia Daily Gazette, after which, if there is no response from Lopez, the court may presume he is dead.

Matthews said that he has already spoken with Judge Robert Hagler of the Greene County Probate Court and anticipates that Hagler will approve the action.

The presumption of death will not in any way affect the investigation into Lopez’s disappearance, Swisshelm said. He said that the amount of time he spends on the investigation varies, from a day a week to a lesser amount of time if leads diminish.

Major Eric Prindle, who oversees the investigation, said recently that law enforcement authorities spent a day in the Glen and John Bryan State Park with specially trained cadaver dogs from the Child Connection, an agency in Louisville, Ky. It was the second time the dogs have been brought in.

Asked if detectives have reason to believe Lopez’s body could be in the park, Swisshelm said, “He could be anywhere. We just want to make sure the area is thoroughly checked.”

On the evening of Lopez’s disappearance, rescue workers began searching the Glen and Bryan Park. Volunteer rescue workers with trained dogs joined the search until it was called off two days later. While those dogs were trained to find bodies, they were cross-trained for other purposes as well, said Swisshelm. The Child Connection dogs were specifically trained for cadaver searches.

The case is especially challenging because investigators found no evidence of foul play near Lopez’s car or in the vicinity, Swisshelm said.

“Nothing was found on the scene,” he said. “There was no sign of a struggle.”

The lack of evidence can be considered a positive sign, Prindle said, since there’s no specific evidence that Lopez is no longer alive.

Both Prindle and Swisshelm emphasized that the sheriff’s department has not, in their memory, worked on a case in which a missing person remained missing for so long. About 10 years ago, a young man from Xenia was missing for a few months before he was found dead, the apparent victim of a homicide, Prindle said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in the 23 years I’ve worked on the department,” Swisshelm said.

The detectives encourage anyone with information about the Lopez case, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, to come forward and contact the department at 562-4810. Tips can be made anonymously.

At the time of Lopez’s disappearance, his family offered a reward of $10,000 for information leading to the apprehension of the person responsible for Lopez’s disappearance, and the sheriff’s department added $1,000 to the reward. That $11,000 reward is still available, Prindle said.

—Diane Chiddister