Car, body recovered from sinkhole:[NORTH SUNCOAST Edition]
FRANK WITSILJACK ROWLANDSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Jun 8, 1991.  pg. 1.B
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Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jun 8, 1991

After nearly two days and multiple descents into the cold, dark depths of a sinkhole, divers have recovered a car believed to contain the body of an elderly Port Richey man missing since March.

A dozen divers using giant air bags floated the car, a white 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass, out of the brackish water of Palm Sink in northwest Pasco County.

The divers could not pull the car straight out of the 130-foot-deep hole because the car was upside down under a rocky overhang.

Just before 2 p.m., the divers attached a bag to the car and inflated it. The buoyancy of the bag made the car maneuverable enough so divers could pull it from beneath the overhang.

Then a rope tied to the car was attached to another bag that was inflated on the surface. Divers attached a third bag to the rope 20 feet beneath the surface and inflated it, causing the car to rise 20 feet. They repeated this process until the car was about 10 feet beneath the surface - three hours later.

The recovery was witnessed by two cave divers, brothers Legare and Stephan Hole of Clearwater, who discovered the Cutlass and a second car while making a practice dive in Palm Sink early Thursday morning.

Asked to describe their discovery and reaction when they found the body, Legare Hole said:

"We were doing our sweep around the (bottom), and we saw the front of the car. We've been in this hole before, about four or five months ago, and there were no cars in there before. So we . . . looked at it, and we saw what appeared to be a hand and a foot and a shoe. It didn't look to be much like a body, but the hand and foot were unmistakable.

"Down there, there's no light whatsoever. It's terribly desolate. And (I was) just thinking what a horrible place it would be to die, never to see light again."

There is still no description of the second car in the sinkhole.

Midway through the process of raising the car, gasoline began leaking from the fuel tank, exposing divers who were not wearing impermeable diving suits to the risk of gasoline poisoning.

Later the divers were hosed down by firefighters to stop the gasoline from seeping through their diving suits and their skin.

They also changed into red environmental-protection suits the gasoline could not penetrate.

About 5 p.m., all three air bags surfaced, indicating the car was about 10 feet from the surface, but it still was not visible from the edge of the sinkhole.

Divers in the small rubber boat pulled the car across the sinkhole to the southeast edge, where a tow truck was standing by to remove the car from the water.

The car, covered by a thin layer of silt, had damage to the passenger-side headlights and was dented on that side. The windshield wipers had been deployed.

The body in the car was removed.

Authorities would not speculate on the occupant's identity, but the license plate removed from the car was registered to an 85-year-old Port Richey man, Fritz Geszti.

Geszti was been described as suffering from periods of disorientation before his disappearance.

Family members said Thursday that the Pasco County Sheriff's Office told them a license plate recovered from the Cutlass showed that the car was registered to Geszti.

But sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers declined to speculate on the identity of the body.

COLOR PHOTO, JACK ROWLAND; Sinkholes: Florida: Pasco County: 91; Caption: Members of the sheriff's diving team wait for a car with a body inside to be pulled out of Palm Sink on Friday.

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Body found in car in sinkhole:[CITY Edition]
LARRY DOUGHERTYSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Jun 7, 1991.  pg. 1.B
Full Text (780   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jun 7, 1991

The two divers were 120 feet underwater in a Pasco County sinkhole before dawn Thursday when through the murky water they saw a startling sight: an upside-down car with what appeared to be a body inside.

That car, lying on a bed of silt under an overhang, as well as a second car a few feet away, were the focus of attention for more than a dozen police divers working in the cold, brackish water though the day Thursday.

Authorities wouldn't speculate on the identity of the body, but relatives of an 85-year-old Port Richey man, Fritz Geszti, who has been missing since March, said they had been warned that a license plate divers took from the first car was registered to Geszti.

The sinkhole, called Palm Sink, is about 50 feet downhill from U.S. 19 in Hudson. A guardrail blocks the shortest path from the highway to the sinkhole, but police said it is possible to drive around the guardrail.

Rudy Dornemann, the nephew of the missing man, said that in his later years Geszti "didn't feel comfortable driving, particularly on busy streets. He would cross where he didn't have to make complicated turns."

Geszti, who in recent months had suffered from spells of disorientation, "really didn't like to drive far from home," Dornemann said. Geszti had lived alone on Fillmore Avenue outside Port Richey, two and a half miles from Palm Sink, since his wife died two years ago.

The two people who discovered the car had been practicing night-diving techniques. They notified the Pasco County Sheriff's Office about 3 a.m. Details about the second car, or its owner, were not known late Thursday.

By 10 a.m. deputies had requested assistance from divers with the Hillsborough and Citrus County sheriff's offices. A local car dealership sent over a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass, the same kind of car Geszti had been driving when he disappeared, and divers practiced attaching harnesses on the underside of the car in a parking lot near Palm Sink.

For safety reasons, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office was limiting the time divers spent at the bottom of Palm Sink to five minutes, according to sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers. Immersion at such a depth requires a gradual ascent to prevent decompression sickness, also known as the bends.

Palm Sink is "not an enjoyable place to visit," according to Paul Heinerth of Hudson, a professional diver who raised a stolen car from the sinkhole about seven years ago. At 65 degrees, it's cold for a Florida sinkhole, and the chemicals and silt in the water make for very poor visibility, usually less than 5 feet, he said.

There are no fish at the bottom, only tires and garbage, Heinerth said. Dissolved hydrogen sulfide makes the water smell and taste like rotten eggs, he added.

Sheriffs' deputies stopped work about 5:30 p.m. They said they planned to resume work at 8 a.m. today - first to try to remove the body, then to use air bags to maneuver the car out from under the ledge and to the surface, Powers said. He added: "It's a heck of a lot harder and more dangerous than it sounds."

Fritz Geszti last was seen by neighbors March 20, driving from his home in the Cutlass. He had been found wandering in Pinellas County in December, and authorities returned him home then. Workers at restaurants that Geszti visited shortly before his disappearance told Pasco deputies that Geszti would sometimes come in and order the same meal several times in the same day.

Geszti was born in Hungary and emigrated in his 20s, according to his nephew Dornemann, an archaeologist who recently moved to Baltimore from Wisconsin. Geszti worked as a domestic and as an aircraft factory worker on Long Island before he retired to Florida about 20 years ago with his French-born wife, Gabrielle.

"After his wife died he was really down," Dornemann said. Geszti recently had been prone to fits of forgetfulness. At times "he had a problem finding his car. . . . I was concerned about his driving," Dornemann said.

Dornemann recalled the 5-foot-2 Geszti as "fun-loving," with a "twinkle in his eye" when their families were living next door to each other on Long Island. But the last time they met, almost three years ago, Geszti "had aged considerably."

COLOR PHOTO, JACK ROWLAND; COLOR MAP; BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO; Sinkholes: Florida: Pasco County: 91, (2); Caption: Divers team members from Pasco and Hillsborough counties work in Palm Sink, described as "not an enjoyable place to visit."; Locates the Palm Sink sinkhole and illustrates approximate depth and location of the submerged car; Fritz Geszti, 85, of Port Richey has been missing since March.

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Sinkhole clouds search for cars:[CITY Edition]
LARRY DOUGHERTYSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Jun 7, 1991.  pg. 1.12
Full Text (598   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jun 7, 1991

The water-filled hole called Palm Sink in Hudson varies in depth from about 120 to 145 feet. At the bottom, it is cold and dark, and dissolved hydrogen sulfide makes the water smell like rotten eggs. Even with a light, visibility is only a few feet.

These conditions complicated the task of divers from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies who were trying to raise two cars - and possibly a body - sighted in the sinkhole early Thursday morning.

In addition, divers had to contend with the dangers posed by nitrogen narcosis, a condition that limits the time divers may spend in deep water. After spending a few minutes at the bottom of Palm Sink, a diver might have to allow an hour or more for the ascent, to allow the body to release nitrogen absorbed into the tissues.

Palm Sink "is not an enjoyable place to visit," said Paul Heinerth of Hudson, a professional diver who raised a stolen Mercedes-Benz from the sinkhole with a crane about seven years ago.

The odor of rotten eggs, generated by rotting vegetation that has fallen into the sinkhole, is something you can "smell through your equipment, and taste," he said.

"There's so much trash - newspaper boxes, beer cans, tires, you name it," said Heinerth. "That's why no one really dives there. . . . It's on the bottom of my list."

Heinerth, who owns the Scuba West dive store and school in Hudson, and who has accumulated 7,000 hours of diving time, said he has been in Palm Sink about six times.

"In that particular sinkhole, the visibility is not good," Heinerth said. Tannic acid in the water gives it the color of "iced tea," he said.

"If it's undisturbed, visibility may be 20 feet, if it's really good. Probably it's 3 to 5 feet visibility. Once you stir up the very fine silt that's laying on the bottom, you can't see anything."

Light from the surface penetrates no deeper than 40 feet, he said. The water is a combination of salt water and fresh water.

"There are no fish because of the consistency of the water," he said. "There's virtually no oxygen in it, nothing alive down there."

For safety, sheriff's officials said they were limiting divers' time on the bottom to about five minutes.

"You really don't have time but to go down, look around and come back," Heinerth said.

A diver might take a few minutes getting down, spend five minutes on the bottom, then take an hour or more making stops on the ascent to let his or her tissues release nitrogen; a few minutes at 40 feet, eight to 20 minutes at 30 feet, 20 to 30 minutes at 20 feet, then 40 minutes to an hour at 10 feet.

Heinerth said he didn't know much history of Palm Sink, but said, "It's been there since before white man was on these shores.

"I heard about it in 1971 and got a peek back then. I didn't get turned on."

COLOR PHOTO, Jack Rowland, (2); BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO, Jack Rowland; Sink Holes: Florida: Pasco County: 91, (3); Caption: Dive-team members from Hillsborough and Pasco counties prepare to enter Palm Sink for the first time (ran PT); Dive-team members from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department and the Pasco County Sheriff's Department use a 1986 Oldsmobile as a model to decide how to attach float bags to the Oldsmobile in Palm Sink (ran PT); Many curious people gathered to watch the dive teams enter Palm Sink off U.S. 19 in Hudson (ran PT)

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Details on sunken car sketchy:[CITY Edition]
FRANK WITSILSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Jun 11, 1991.  pg. 1
Full Text (353   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jun 11, 1991

Pasco County authorities still are trying to determine how and why 85-year-old Fritz Geszti drove his car into a 130-foot sinkhole and who owns a second car found in the murky water next to Geszti's Oldsmobile.

The body found in the 1986 Olds Cutlass that was recovered Friday evening was identified positively Sunday as Geszti, who had been missing since March.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has not determined when Geszti's car plunged into the sinkhole or its exact route. Monday, authorities would only say that the car went into the water along the southeast bank.

A heavy guardrail that separates the sinkhole from U.S. 19 had not been damaged, leading officials to speculate that Geszti must have driven behind the barricade. They say they have determined Geszti was not murdered but will not theorize on whether his death was an accident or suicide.

The license plate from the second car, a blue 1986 Dodge convertible that also was found upside down at the bottom of the sinkhole, was removed during the recovery of Geszti's car.

The car could have been in the water for as long as four years, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Jon Powers.

It definitely has been there since late last year, according to Legare Hole of Clearwater, who found Geszti's car in the early hours last Thursday while practicing night diving with his brother. Hole said he first saw the blue Dodge during a dive into the sinkhole last December.

The Dodge's tag expired in 1987 and was registered to a company in Miami that was taken over by a car rental company in Miami. When the rental company was contacted Friday by the Sheriff's Office, agents said they could find no record of the car but are continuing to check, Powers said.

The Sheriff's Office has no current record of a stolen-car report on the Dodge, but there could have been a record at one time that has since been purged, Powers said.

If a record of a stolen-car report on the Dodge is found, Powers said it, too, will be raised from the bottom of the hole.

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Mystery car raised from the deep:[CITY Edition]
LARRY DOUGHERTYSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg: Jul 11, 1991.  pg. 1.16
Full Text (419   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jul 11, 1991

Divers have pulled a second car from Palm Sink, the sinkhole in Hudson that last month yielded the body of a missing Port Richey resident.

Unlike that first car, the vehicle retrieved Wednesday from a depth of 110 feet apparently held nothing special. The second car is a silver 1986 Dodge 600 convertible and appeared on first inspection to contain nothing more dramatic than mud, sheriff's officials said.

After checking the identification number on the car's dashboard, deputies learned that the car was reported stolen from the Indian Rocks Beach area of Pinellas County on June 13, 1987. Deputies couldn't say when or how the car went into the sinkhole, where it came rest upside down.

"Someone could have driven it in and jumped out, or put a brick on the accelerator - it's not clear," Pasco sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said.

When the car was raised, the key was in the ignition at the on position, and the automatic transmission was in low gear, Powers said. The convertible top was down.

The license plate on the Dodge apparently had been taken from a Miami rental car, Powers said.

Powers had no information on who might have owned or operated the car at the time of its theft. An insurance company currently owns the vehicle, he said.

The Dodge was raised by about a dozen Pasco deputies, divers from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and two civilian divers with extensive deep diving experience, Craig Laporte and Paul Heinerth. They worked from about 8 a.m. to shortly after 2 p.m., when the car broke the surface.

The divers used a series of bags inflated with compressed air to raise the car in stages of 20 feet. Because of the water pressure, the bags expanded as they rose and became more buoyant, Laporte said.

As investigators looked into the second car, the fate of the man found in the first one remains unclear. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner has ruled that the death of 85-year-old Fritz Geszti was a suicide, probably by drowning.

But sheriff's detectives have yet to make a final ruling in the case. Geszti, who suffered from spells of disorientation, was last seen driving from his home on March 20; his car was found in Palm Sink on June 6.

COLOR PHOTO, Scott Keeler, (2); Sinkholes: Florida: Pasco County: 91, (2); Caption: Divers work to bring car to the surface of the Palm Sink (ran PT); Retrieved from the sinkhole, the stolen car is hosed down (ran PT)

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