Body of Nick Steward, missing Lake Villa man, likely found

October 4, 2013 (VERNON HILLS, Ill.)

Authorities announced Firday morning that a body was found around 10:30 p.m. Thursday in a densely wooded area about 3/4 of a mile southeast of the area where Steward's car was found. The identity of the body and the cause of death are still pending.

"We have reason to believe that these are the remains of Nicholas Steward based on a number of personal items that were discovered on or near the body," a state's attorney news release said.

Steward was driving a white 2008 Saturn Aura when he was last seen on September 20. His relatives say his I-Pass shows he went through the Touhy Avenue toll booth on I-294 around 5:30 that evening.

A Vernon Hills police officer in the neighborhood recognized the car in a parking lot at 955 Westmoreland Drive while on an unrelated call. Vernon Hills police and the Lake County State's Attorny's Office said they are investigating. They have been searching a large wooded area behind the parking lot, and friends and neighbors have come there looking for news.

"I've just been praying this whole week. I heard the news at church and I'm just in shock. He was a great man and I'm hopeful that he's here with us," said Genevieve Reznicek, friend.

The car was removed and will be searched for any evidence. The vehicle looks to be in good condition, the state's attorney's office said.

The 33-year-old man was last seen as he left his job in Wood Dale. Anybody with information about his whereabouts is asked to contact Lake Villa police at (847) 356-6106.

Steward previously lived in Vernon Hills and graduated from Libertyville High School.

Police combed the area until just before midnight, drawing a crowd of onlookers that remained for much of the evening.

Both police and fire officials focused their search on a massive cornfield, which is adjacent to the apartment on the complex's south end and north of Abbot Laboratories. Approximately half a dozen K9 units searched the field for roughly three hours Thursday, then were called off at about 9:45 p.m. and left the scene completely 45 minutes later.

By 10:45, police brought an eight-wheel ATV into the field — which is separated from the apartment complex by a roughly 5-foot wire fence — and the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force returned to the site for a second time Thursday.

Both left the scene just before midnight.

Numerous law enforcement agencies also descended on the area throughout the evening Thursday, including the Lake County sheriff's office, Lake County Forest Preserve Police, McHenry police, Linconshire police, the Countryside Fire Protection District and the Vernon Hills, Mundelein and Gurnee police departments.

Traffic on Westmoreland was funneled down to one lane in certain areas to accommodate the investigation.

Resident Stacy Schwager, 26, said the car looked "totally pristine and normal" from the exterior. She also said Steward's car was parked abutting the cornfield.

Schwager and her roommate, Brian Kestin, 30, share an apartment overlooking the lot where the car was found. They said their neighborhood is not a high-crime area.

Kestin was listening to a police scanner when he heard of the investigation. He opened the apartment window to see officers cordoning off the parking lot.

"This is our tiny, little, quiet section," Schwager said. "Stuff like this doesn't happen here. This is insane."

The Illinois Tollway Authority told police Steward's car did go through the northbound Touhy Avenue Toll Plaza northbound on I-294 at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, and he also had a telephone conversation with his employer at about the same time.

Then about five hours later, at 10:28 p.m., his cellphone signal was tracked to the area of the 2700 block of South River Road near Des Plaines. Then the phone was turned off.

The 33-year-old's disappearance sparked a massive, volunteer-run search designed to cover 225 square miles that stretched from Lake Forest to Wood Dale Sunday, Sept. 29.

A Facebook page, "Find Nick Steward," also was set up with family photos of the married father of a young son.

His wife, Megan Steward, reported him missing after he didn't return home from work. Earlier this week, she thanked the more than 100 volunteers that gathered for the search.

"From the bottom of my heart, I am just so stunned by the outreach and the support from the community and just everyone who has been just so wonderful to us," she said. "Hopefully, we'll find something that will help us today and bring Nick home to us."

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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