NAPLES — Five K-9s from Sarasota, a helicopter and more than two dozen law enforcement officers searched a brush-filled area of North Naples on Wednesday morning after a tipster called Collier County authorities about two high-profile missing persons cases.
The search teams combed a piece of land on the east side of Vanderbilt Drive, just north of Wiggins Pass Road, less than two miles from a cemetery where Terrence Williams was pulled over by former Collier County sheriff’s deputy Steven Calkins on the day Williams disappeared in 2004.
“I’m happy. I’m just so happy that people are calling in and saying what they saw,” Williams’ mother, Marcia Williams, said Wednesday. “They just need to come forward with it so they can help me and help the sheriff’s department.”
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Karie Partington said authorities were searching an area with footpaths that led to some mangroves. The tipster had seen a patrol car in the area around the time the two men disappeared, she said.
Both Williams and Felipe Santos disappeared within months of each other after separate encounters with the same Collier deputy — Calkins.
Williams, then 27, last was confirmed seen with Calkins on Jan. 12, 2004. Santos, then 23, was last spotted with Calkins on Oct. 14, 2003.
Calkins was fired in 2004 after former sheriff Don Hunter said he became uncooperative in the investigations.
The area off Vanderbilt Drive first was searched in April 2004 “because it was an area we knew that deputy Calkins had been known to go to,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Michelle Batten said.
Both Batten and Partington declined to comment on what, if anything, officials found Wednesday, citing the ongoing investigation. But they said the Collier County Medical Examiner’s Office was not at the scene.
Sarasota K-9 Search and Rescue’s founder Joe Abrams said five dogs searched over an area about 660 acres.
“We searched everything we could,” he said, adding that some areas were “impassable.”
Abrams also would not say if anything had been found.
Sarasota K-9 Search and Rescue was used because they are “highly trained,” and have cadaver dogs, which Collier County does not have, Batten said.
Any new information generated “will be used as part of the investigation,” she said.
Officials did not say if they planned to interview Calkins again, but in an April appearance on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, lead detective Kevin O’Neill said Calkins was “absolutely in the middle of the investigation.”
“Everything I turn to brings me right back to Steve Calkins,” he told interviewer Randi Kaye.
Calkins did not answer a reporter’s knocks at his door Wednesday afternoon, but told the Daily News in 2006 he did nothing wrong and had fallen on “very bad luck.”
The cases regained national momentum after the television network Investigation Discovery featured them on a show called “Disappeared” in October. Actor Tyler Perry began posting about Williams and Santos on his Facebook and Twitter accounts after seeing the show, saying he was “Beyond Outraged By This!”
Marcia Williams said the show also helped her talk to her son’s four children, who live in Chattanooga, Tenn., and had not been fully aware of the circumstances behind their father’s disappearance.
“I promised them that I’m going to be here until I find out what happened to their daddy,” she said. “They do understand that. I’m not going to let them down.”
The “Disappeared” episode will air again Monday at 7 p.m. on Investigation Discovery. Anyone with information in the cases is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 239-252-9300 or southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS.
Staff writer Victoria Macchi contributed to this report.