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Wade Lurk, 17 -- Drowned

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Wade Lurk probably spent the last moments of his life gasping for air and trying to get out of a nightmarish situation, said St. Francois County Coroner James Coplin, who conducted a three-hour autopsy on the Ste. Genevieve teen's body Tuesday morning.

Lurk, whose body was found Monday after a 16-day search, was trapped in a slowly sinking automobile with power windows that didn't work and doors that would be nearly impossible to open, Coplin said.

Coplin's preliminary findings seem to confirm police suspicions that a confused Lurk accidentally drove into Goose Creek Lake near French Village, Mo.

"There wasn't any sign of foul play or trauma whatsoever," Coplin said in a telephone interview. "Right now, we are considering this an accidental drowning."

Coplin said he will not issue a formal cause of death until he examines the results of toxicology tests, which he said should be available in four weeks.

Lurk, who was a senior at Valle High School in Ste. Genevieve, was last seen about 4 a.m. on April 1, sleeping in his car outside a lake house where he and friends had been partying and playing cards. Hundreds of volunteers had searched for Lurk, but his car was not spotted in the lake until shortly before noon on Monday, when it was noticed by fishermen.

Police on Monday confirmed that the body found in the vehicle was Lurk. They said they believed that Lurk drove into the lake by accident, and that Lurk was most likely disoriented and intoxicated. After Tuesday's autopsy, Coplin offered new details that shed light on what likely happened when Lurk's 1990 Nissan Stanza was driven into the water.

The coroner said that for several minutes, the four-door sedan probably bobbed in the water with the engine - the heaviest part of the vehicle -under the water line. He said the water quickly would have shorted out the car's power windows, which were rolled up. And because of the heavy pressure on the doors from the water outside, they too would have been useless, Coplin said.

"I'm sure it would have been a very panicky situation," Coplin said. "His only way to escape would have been to kick out the glass, which would have been very difficult in complete darkness, or to wait for the car to entirely submerge and then (try to) open the doors."

Coplin said Lurk's body was found in the back seat of the car, which the coroner said made sense because that is where the last air pocket would have remained. He said the position of Lurk's body in the vehicle was not at all suspicious.

Coplin also said that the autopsy revealed no broken bones or other signs of struggle that would indicate foul play.

Authorities have said damage to a wall of a building along the lakeshore was caused by Lurk's car sideswiping the building as the car entered the lake. Part of a broken side mirror and broken bulbs from a strand of Christmas lights along the shore also indicated that a car might have struck items along the shore, authorities said.



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