By Bill Buell
Ronald Frank started getting the emails and the phone calls early Tuesday evening.
“Ron, is that your car?” his friends wanted to know.
Frank, who lives on Stuyvesant Road in Niskayuna, had an automobile stolen from his driveway back in 1994. He and his wife, Cathy, are convinced the car pulled from the Mohawk River on Tuesday afternoon was theirs, and the Schenectady police seem to agree.
“It was a Honda Accord — a very unique color green — and they seem to think it is my car,” said Frank, who talked to Schenectady police on the phone twice Wednesday. “I’m convinced it’s my car, but I’m not looking for anything. I just called to see if they needed any help with an investigation. I didn’t want them to do any unnecessary work.”
Ron Frank and his wife, Cathy, sit in the dining room of their Niskayuna home where they have lived for nearly 30 years. The couple had a car stolen from their driveway 23 years ago, and they believe it is the vehicle pulled from the Mohawk River on Tuesday.
The reason Frank is so convinced it’s his automobile is because a year after it was stolen out of his driveway, a friend of his was scuba diving in the Mohawk River and came across the car.
“A year later, almost to the day, I got a phone call from a friend who said he found my car in the bottom of the Mohawk River,” Frank remembered. “This is back in 1995. This is a story that’s been told down through the years. [The friend] said he went in, opened the glove compartment and saw some documents with my name on it. I’ve told this story over and over again, and that’s why all of our friends wanted to know after they watched the news [Tuesday] night. They all thought it had to be our car.”
A state police dive team removed the 1989 Honda Accord from the river Tuesday near the end of Washington Avenue in the Stockade section of the city. A fisherman, using a sonar device to look for fish, called Schenectady police to tell them he had spotted the vehicle in 20 feet of water.
After learning the car had been pulled from the water, Frank tried to contact Schenectady police Tuesday night, but to no avail. On Wednesday morning, he was put in touch with the police department’s traffic division and, after providing initial information to a dispatcher, he received a phone call from an investigator and shared his story again.
“He asked me a few questions, and I didn’t know the VIN number, but they were working with the [state Department of Motor Vehicles] to identify it,” Frank said. “When I saw a photo and watched the video [Tuesday] night, I was convinced, and I think [the investigator] believes it, too.”
Schenectady police spokesman Sgt. Matthew Dearing confirmed Wednesday that police spoke with Frank. However, by mid-afternoon, he said police had yet to confirm the full story on the car.
Investigators recovered 14 numbers of the VIN, short of the usual 17-digit number. Police were working with the DMV to zero in on the car’s past. That process could take some time, Dearing said.
Frank worked at GE Global Research for 30 years before retiring in 2015. He and his wife, Cathy, a retired teacher from Hillside Elementary in Niskayuna, had just returned from a family vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey, near the end of August 1994 when the car was stolen.
“We were too tired to empty the car, so we just came into the house and went to bed,” Cathy Frank said. “The car was in the driveway, unlocked with the garage opener in it. We think, whoever it was, opened the garage door and then walked into the kitchen and took my purse with the keys in it.”
Ron Frank said when he got up that morning, he just walked out the front door and went to work in his car, which had been parked on the street. He never noticed that the car usually used by his wife was not there.
When Cathy Frank woke up that morning, she realized the car was gone and called Niskayuna police.
“They didn’t want to deal with me,” she remembered. “I had to call my husband at work, and there weren’t cellphones in that day. But they wouldn’t do anything until they talked to my husband.”
An investigation by the Niskayuna police didn’t turn up anything. A year later, when Ron Frank’s friend came across the Honda in the Mohawk, Frank again reached out to police.
“At first I called my insurance company because I thought it was the responsible thing to do,” Frank said. “They didn’t care. The case was closed, and I had already bought a new car, so it really didn’t matter to me. But then I thought I should call the Niskayuna police, and they said because it’s in the river in Schenectady, I should call [the Schenectady] department. When I called the Schenectady PD, they told me to call Scotia police. They told me they couldn’t do anything. They didn’t even have a boat.”
So, even though Frank had a very good idea where his vehicle was, it just remained in the river.
“Again, I wasn’t trying to pursue anything; I just thought someone would want to know,” he said. “But nobody cared about a car resting in the bottom of the Mohawk River, and I got money for it, so it was really no big deal to us. We did buy this nice exotic kite in Ocean City, and it would have been nice to get that back. We lost our baggage and my wife’s purse, but all we’re trying to do now is to save the police department some work.”