Smithfield, N.C. — Relatives of a Clayton woman said Tuesday that her body was found in her car days after it ran off a highway and was towed off.
Carolyn Ann Watkins' 2000 Pontiac Sunfire was found in a watery ditch, down a steep embankment off Swift Creek Road, about 4 miles southwest of Smithfield on Friday and was towed to an impound lot, according to a report from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
The report states "no driver (was) at the scene of this collision."
Watkins, 62, was last seen Thursday, and her family started searching for her on Saturday, said her son, Algernon Parker. After the family reported her missing to the Smithfield Police Department on Monday, when she failed to show up at work, authorities found her body in the driver's seat of the Sunfire.
"They were looking for her pocketbook and the keys, and when they started searching, that's when they found the body in the car," Parker said.
The Highway Patrol didn't explain to the family why Watkins' wasn't seen in the car earlier.
"They didn't do their job properly, and we want some answers," Parker said.
The state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon expressing regret for the situation.
“First and foremost, we offer our most sincere condolences to Carolyn Watkins’ family," Commissioner Frank Perry, who heads the department's Law Enforcement Division, said in the statement. "Our main concern is to conduct a thorough and professional investigation so we can determine exactly what happened."
Trooper M.D. Williams, who ordered the car towed, has been placed on administrative duty with pay pending the outcome of an investigation by DPS and the State Bureau of Investigation, officials said. He has been with the Highway Patrol for nine years.
Efforts to contact Williams at his Clayton home Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The Sunfire was still at Dustin's Towing in Willow Spring on Tuesday. It was covered by a tarp, and company representatives said the Highway Patrol had told them not to discuss the case.
Parker and other relatives are furious, saying Watkins might still be alive if Williams had checked the car thoroughly before having it towed.
"The only reason I'm upset is the way she was left in that car. She could've been living," said her daughter-in-law, Patricia Parker. "If they would've got her out like they should have, medical attention could've taken care of what was wrong with her."