One set of skeletal remains found at Callville Bay in Lake Mead in Arizona on May 7 has been identified as those of a 42-year-old man who reportedly drowned two decades ago.
The Clark County coroner/medical examiner identified the remains found at Callville Bay as those of Thomas Erndt, county spokesman Dan Kulin said.
“The identification was based on investigative information, DNA analysis, and reports from the original incident,” Kulin said in a statement. “The cause and manner of Mr. Erndt’s death [are] undetermined.”
Thomas Erndt lived in Las Vegas and was reported to have drowned on August 2, 2002.
An obituary in the Cincinnati Enquirer on August 13, 2002, said Erndt died in an accident in Lake Mead and that he was a devoted father of two, according to public records. It also stated that Erndt was formerly of the College Hill neighborhood of the city.
Tom Erndt, 31, of South San Francisco, is the victim’s son.
The younger Erndt said back in 2002 when he was 10 years old, he, his father, family, and friends all went for a nighttime boat ride on Lake Mead. He said his dad loved boats and always took family members out for a ride.
Erndt said he recalled that it was a windy night, and no one else wanted to jump in the water.
“My dad just decided, ‘You know what, why not?’ He takes off his shirt, jumps in the water,” Erndt said.
“He was a big jokester, so he would always mess around with us,” Erndt continued. At first, the elder Erndt appeared only to be pretending to drown.
“Next thing we know, he was basically screaming for help, and it just turned into a nightmare from there,” he explained.
He remembered his friends and family trying to rescue his dad that night, but they were unsuccessful. The boat would not start, and cell service was sparse.
Eventually, Erndt’s sister was able to reach 911 after multiple unsuccessful attempts.
Clark County asked Erndt and his sister for DNA samples to confirm whether one of the bodies found was their father.
“When I got my DNA sample kit from the coroner’s office, I think I sat on it for a week just because I don’t think I was ready for the answer,” Erndt said.
This week Clark County’s coroner confirmed that one of the bodies was indeed Erndt’s father.
“It’s nice to have the closure. It’s nice to know that he’s at peace, but I don’t think I’m ready for my closure yet. It’s just been so hard to really think of it that way,” Erndt said.
There are still ongoing investigations into the identifications of the other skeletal remains recovered by the Clark County coroner and medical examiner’s office.
Such processes take time because the collection of DNA samples from the remains can be “greatly impacted by environmental conditions and time.”
The drought has caused the Las Vegas lake’s water level to fall, making significant portions of the lakebed visible. Aside from bodies, other items have been revealed, including a World War II-era Higgins landing boat like those used during the D-Day invasion in World War II.
Note: This article was updated on August 29 at 7:56 p.m. to include additional information.