California man finds car buried in sand for 21 years

Written by Staff Writer

It was buried in sand, wrapped up in a plastic bag, stuffed in its own trunk and left to slowly decompose in the ocean for 21 years, somewhere on the sand spit that juts out of the coast of California’s city of Malibu.

That was the evidence that Steven Vergara, a 30-year-old Orange County, California, resident, found stuffed into the rusty trunk of a car on a boardwalk between the beach and Southern Highlands Road in Malibu on Wednesday, January 2.

It took Vergara a week to piece together the story about the car, a 1987 Toyota Land Cruiser that has been sitting near the beach every day since it was swallowed by the ocean 21 years ago, when five teenagers drowned.

“If you’re alive today, some idiot told you that it’s missing. Be thankful that it’s not just sitting out in the sand,” Vergara told CNN affiliate KABC.

A miracle?

Alongside the car were 12 rings, connected by loops of copper wire, and a yellow wallet inside the backseat that contained a billfold with ID. A distraught image of a dead boy’s face was among the pictures found in the wallet.

According to the California coast guard, five teenagers, ranging in age from 14 to 17, entered a tiny beach cave on October 23, 1991, after a night of drinking and diving. When the boys dug a ditch out of the sand, they were caught and drowned.

The Los Angeles County coroner identified the bodies as Kevin Egan, 17; Thomas Backman, 17; Burt Wieden, 15; Kevin Holcomb, 16; and Phillip Guerra, 15.

Miles away in a remote area of Malibu, Vergara stumbled across the engine compartment of a car parked at a coffee shop.

In the trunk was the Toyota Land Cruiser.

Inside, Vergara found a crushed-out car. The refrigerator-sized trunk was covered with sand, rolled up inside itself like a giant tortoise shell. Inside was a plastic bag.

The plastic bag inside Vergara’s discovery of the missing car, a 1987 Toyota Land Cruiser. CNN

The headlight in the trunk was melted in a circle. It appeared the hood of the car had melted down into the hood of the trunk.

In the trunk were twelve rings, connected by loops of copper wire, and a yellow wallet inside the backseat that contained a billfold with a picture of a dead boy’s face. An image of a dead boy’s face was inside the wallet.

Missing ‘by accident’

It was obvious that something had been hidden inside.

According to KABC, a woman who lost track of her boyfriend after he went into the cave told the car owner to stick around because she would let him search the car. When the owner stepped outside, he found that the glove compartment was gone, but his girlfriend’s wallet was in it.

A woman later found the wallets of the five teenagers. None of the three wallets from the 1993 date had been seen since. KABC reached out to the owner of the car, but he did not respond before the reported story ran on

California coast guard spokesman Jonathan Gittleman told CNN that most “cave or abandoned property” cases are unsolved.

According to KABC, earlier this year the California attorney general’s office asked the California legislature to consider dedicating a state monument in Malibu in honor of the victims of the tragedy.

But some may not believe the story.

An empty lunch box and shorts were found in the trunk. An empty lunch box and shorts were found in the trunk. CNN

Vergara believes the car was buried in the sand on purpose, because at that time, a blizzard caused the ground to freeze. If the car was simply abandoned, then the sand would have washed off the vehicle over time.

“It kind of feels like a miracle, but at the same time, it’s completely coincidence,” Vergara told KABC.

Vergara’s fascination with the missing car began when he was a kid growing up in Huntington Beach, California. It was about a month ago when he went to the beach and found the car.

“I realized that the cold, remote part of Malibu wasn’t here 20 years ago,” he told KABC. “There’s nothing that draws you to a beach like this.”

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