Missing Sabrina

Search for baby focuses on river


©St. Petersburg Times, published December 12, 1997

BRANDON -- What is probably the largest search of its kind ever in Hillsborough County, and perhaps one of the biggest in Florida history, moved Thursday to the banks of the Alafia River.

But investigators still turned up no trace of baby Sabrina Aisenberg.

The river had been on the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's list of areas to search, but a tip generated from the television show America's Most Wanted focused authorities' interest on a particular boat ramp.

Sheriff's officials who combed the banks and a 2-mile stretch of the river found lots of dead fish from a weekend acid spill but "no evidence that would help the investigation," Lt. Stan Doss said.

Sabrina vanished from her parents' suburban home Nov. 24, setting off an investigation that has captured national attention, including a segment Dec. 7 on America's Most Wanted.

WTVT-Ch. 13 reported Thursday that one tip generated by that show concerned a man and woman reportedly seen getting out of a white van at the Center Avenue boat ramp with what appeared to be a baby, walking to the river and returning without the baby.

Sheriff's officials would not, however, discuss the content of the tip.

"We received about 80 tips from that show," sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown said. "One of them led us to an area on the river by a boat ramp. We're not going to get into what leads we have as far as what are the details. In addition to going in a lot of directions, we're searching that area also."

Arthur Cuscaden, who has lived next to the boat ramp since the mid-1960s, said neither he nor his wife had seen the kind of activity reportedly included in the tip.

Cuscaden, 56, did note that in good weather the boat ramp stays active all day and night, which could make it difficult for anyone to come and go without someone noticing. Neighbors come down to fish at night, teenagers hang out to drink beer, and in the 1970s drug dealers even did business there, he said.

"I've complained for years about it," he said of the activity. "I've finally given up."

Divers are not expected to begin a search of the river's bottom before Monday, Doss said. Today, sheriff's officials will meet to discuss just how much farther the search will go.

Thanks to help from law enforcement agencies from as far away as Miami-Dade and Lake counties, deputies will have walked nearly four square miles around the Aisenbergs' home and covered at least a dozen ponds by this weekend. Doss said the goal has been to search every pond next to any road leading from the Aisenbergs' neighborhood.

Thursday's effort involved 160 people, 91 divers or dive-support personnel and another 70 walking the ground. As one set of agencies drops off the search and others join, the search today is expected to include about 70 people.

©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.