A fisherman whose line snagged something on the Maumee River’s bottom beneath the Anthony Wayne Bridge on Saturday, reeled in what searchers for a missing toddler believe could be several strands of the child’s hair.
But a Toledo Fire Department official said the evidence was not strong enough to justify sending divers back into the murky water, where previous searches for the body of Elaina Steinfurth had come up empty.
Fisherman Patrick Howard of Toledo said he turned over what he described as a tuft of brownish-blond hair tangled on his hook to police who were called to the scene on the river’s East Toledo bank.
Several dozen searchers, most clad in fluorescent green Search Team T-shirts, gathered along the riverbank for what they hoped would be a fire-department dive into the Maumee.
But Battalion Chief Bryce Blair said the discovery did not warrant diving back into an area where the river bottom is “very junked up” with abandoned cars, shopping carts, trees, and other debris that pose a significant safety hazard.
“This evidence right now does not rise to the level of putting divers in the water,” the chief said after cautioning the searchers against attempting a water search themselves: “If somebody was to go get their dive gear and try it, it's a recipe for disaster.”
Chief Blair added that he himself had been on a previous search dive for an hour, and wanted very much for the missing girl to be found.
The battalion chief's decision angered Terry Steinfurth, Sr., the girl’s grandfather, who disagreed that the riverbank immediately below the bridge, also known as the High Level Bridge, had been searched previously.
“We’ve got hair, we’ve got a missing baby — get a ... diver in there,” he said.
Police at the scene, however, said they could not even be sure that the material Mr. Howard pulled up was human hair without testing.
The discovery amounted to two short strands that could have come from a dog carcass or any number of other sources, they said.
Searchers said they planned to conduct a grid search along the nearby riverbank to see if any more evidence turned up.
Elaina, 18 months old, was declared missing June 2 after her father, Terry Steinfurth, Jr., arrived for a custodial visit at a Federal Street home where the girl’s mother, Angela Steinfurth, was staying.
Local dive teams were supplemented later in June by a specially trained FBI team from Washington and Los Angeles.
Angela Steinfurth, who was prominent at initial searches, was arraigned Wednesday on a charge of obstructing official business for allegedly lying to police during their investigation of the girl’s disappearance.
She remained in the Lucas County jail Saturday afternoon in lieu of $100,000 bond.
Contact David Patch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6094.