The nonprofit missing person search and recovery group from Dickinson, Texas, was founded by North Galveston County resident Tim Miller in 2000. Miller dedicated the group to the memory of his 16-year-old daughter, Laura Miller, who was abducted and murdered in 1984.
The group has been involved in more than 1,000 searches, most notably the Natalie Holloway and Caylee Anthony cases. It also helped with another high-profile case near Cleveland a few years ago when it coordinated the search for a pregnant woman who had been killed by her boyfriend, a married policeman from Canton, Ohio.
In the most recent Ohio case, 49-year-old postal worker Robert Lathan Jr. went missing early Jan. 7 after he was involved in a single-car accident on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Doan Creek on the city's East Side.
Police found Lathan's brother, Christopher Lathan, alone in the car. He didn't say anything about Robert initially, according to reports. Police say it was not until later that night that they discovered Robert had also been inside the vehicle at the time of the crash. Christopher subsequently claimed that he and his brother had been drinking before the wreck and that Robert was driving.
Authorities confirmed that no one had seen Robert since the accident. They conducted several searches of the area without locating him. Federal law enforcement officials also got involved because the missing man worked for the postal service, and searched his house. They did not say why they looked or what they found.
Family members became frustrated with the search efforts. On Monday, they decided to reach out to Miller's group to see if he could assist the effort.
"I spoke with the lead investigator, and he said, 'We don't have any money to reimburse you. The city is broke, but if there is any way you could help, we would greatly appreciate it,'" Miller said in an interview with Sphere.com. "I told him, 'I'm on the next flight out.' I met with law enforcement yesterday morning and then began searching Doan Creek."
Miller said that snow and thick ice made it especially difficult for his team to conduct the search. They painstakingly used sledgehammers and axes to break through the ice to the surface of the water.
"The ice was a lot thicker than we had anticipated, so we broke ice all day Wednesday," Miller said. "We were trying to get it to the point that the current would carry the ice downstream. We were making progress, but it was very slow going. We were about four hours into it when I fell into the icy water, and we had to call it a day."
On Thursday, temperatures in Cleveland climbed to 40 degrees, melting some of the snow and ice that had been hindering the search. Texas EquuSearch team member Jeff Kruger said the group was in the water for less than five minutes when they found Robert's body.
"I saw what appeared to be a leg sticking up," Kruger said. "Tim told me to break back the ice some more so we could get a closer look, and there he was."
Police cordoned off the area almost immediately, and the county coroner's office was called to the scene. During the controlled chaos, some of Robert's family members openly accused police of not conducting a better search before EquuSearch's arrival.
"My brother might have been thrown from that car," Robert's brother, Reginald Lathan, told woio.com, "and I had to raise all kinds of hell to get the police down here 14 hours later to shine a flashlight in [the creek]."
Police Commander Wayne Drummond said during a brief press conference that his officers immediately responded once they were certain someone was missing.
"That's important to understand. We still conducted our search, although we still didn't have it confirmed 100 percent that there were two people in the car," he said.
The Cleveland police have been criticized in recent months for not searching more thoroughly for the 11 black women who were found at a home on the East Side in October.
Meanwhile, Texas EquuSearch's job is far from over. Miller and his team are now trying to raise funds to travel to Haiti to assist in the recovery of the victims of Tuesday's earthquake.
"There are a lot of people trapped and missing there right now, so we'll see what we can do to help out," Miller said. "Our job is never over."