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Search for Susan Powell continues near Topaz Mountain

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 4:28 p.m. MDT

West Valley police search abandoned mine shafts for Susan Powell near in Ely, Nev., Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. Susan Powell has been a missing person since Dec. 7, 2009.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

DELTA — The search for clues in the disappearance of West Valley City mother Susan Cox Powell continued Sunday, though its focus shifted to the west side of Topaz Mountain.

On Saturday, officials concluded their dig of an area they originally suspected was a disturbed grave site. Four days of digging resulted in the removal of roughly 100 pieces of what appeared to be charred wood.

Once the pieces were removed from the 2½-foot-deep hole, cadaver dogs stopped indicating there was something still in the hole. The dogs originally led police to the area, suggesting there was human decomposition in the area.

It's now up to the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office to determine why 11 dogs trained to detect human decomposition zeroed in on the wood pieces and whether they have anything to do with Powell's disappearance on Dec. 6, 2009.

Police say the charred pieces likely came in contact with either blood, decomposing flesh or clothing that contained some of that material.

"There was human decomposition on these pieces of wood," West Valley Police Lt. Bill Merritt said.

On Sunday, West Valley City police and search and rescue crews from Juab and Millard counties were searching a 10- to 12-mile area west of Topaz Mountain, using more than 20 ATVs, 10 horses and nine cadaver dogs.

Crews plan to continue to search the area through Tuesday and possibly Wednesday, Merritt said.

"If we find something significant, we'll be here as long as it takes," he said.

Officials have been searching the central Utah desert since Tuesday. The area is approximately 25 miles away from Simpson Springs in Tooele County, where Josh Powell, Susan's husband, said he took their two children camping the night before she disappeared.

Merritt said crews have searched the Simpson Springs area "well over two dozen times."

Josh Powell is considered a person of interest in the case because police say he has not been cooperative in their investigation.

Chuck Cox, Susan's father, was back at the search site Sunday. Cox, who lives in Puyallup, Wash., said he plans to stay at the scene until police have concluded their search.

And he remains optimistic that police will find out what happened to his daughter.

"We know we could (receive) that call and all of a sudden, 'Gee, we found her,' or, 'We found her body,' " Cox said.

Email: syi@desnews.com;jpage@desnews.comsyi@desnews.com;jpage@desnews.com

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