STONINGTON — Police and environmental officials are now at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to finding a car that plunged into the Pawcatuck River on New Year's Day.

Stonington Police Capt. Todd Olson said the department has exhausted its resources and called off the search after a weeklong effort that included numerous boat, inspections of the shoreline, and assistance from other agencies. A Connecticut State Police dive team on Friday used sonar within the channel, but was unable to locate the gray 2007 Saab sedan.

"State police and the fire department have swept the channel and determined that the car is not able to be located within it," Olson said. "We have video, with headlights showing, and know it has traveled south of the Bridge Restaurant at this point, but there's been no other evidence."

The search involved state and local police, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Pawcatuck and Mystic firefighters.

The Saab, Andreas Berry Barbero, 23, of Providence, went into the water at the end of Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck, directly behind the Malted Barley around 12:15 a.m. on Jan. 1. He was rescued by Kyle Driscoll, a Malted Barley bartender, who jumped into the river and pulled Barbero to safety through a broken driver's side window. Officials said both men were uninjured, and Barbero was later charged with driving under the influence.

There was heavy rain at the time and search teams waited until later in hte morning to begin the recovery effort. A strong current and high water levels added to the difficulty of the task.

Olson explained that the search did establish that there were no safety or environmental hazards. With no safety concerns and no need to recover the car as evidence (officials said Babero's insurance would ultimately be responsible for removing the car once it is found), Olson said the search is over.

Olson and Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey have said they do expect the car "will eventually turn up"  once the water level recedes. "One of these days, when there's a super low tide, someone is going to call us up and say, 'hey, we found a car,'" Olson said.

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com

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