Could the search for Caylee Anthony have ended months ago?
A utility worker tried three times in August to alert law enforcement to a strange gray bag on the side of the road near the missing toddler’s home, a sheriff’s official said Thursday.
Three times, deputy sheriffs checked the tips with no results. When curiosity led the same utility worker back to the spot last week, he found the remains of a small child.
Now, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office is trying to figure out what happened four months ago and how its deputies handled the calls. The tipster, who has not been publicly identified, is not considered a suspect and has been cooperating with deputies, officials said.
“We are attempting to be as thorough, as clear and as concise as possible with the information that we received. There was a window of opportunity, possibly . . . " Capt. Angelo Nieves said. “We had a deputy respond to this location.”
The meter reader “provided several phone calls to our Crimeline as well as our communications center,” the captain added during a news conference. “We are currently following up on that sequence to determine the thoroughness of the response here to the scene.”
Authorities have yet to identify the remains -- found scattered over an acre of thick woods -- but many suspect they belong to Caylee, the 2-year-old who was reported missing in mid-July.
Caylee’s mother, 22-year-old Casey Anthony, was indicted in October on first-degree murder and other charges. She claims not to have seen the child since handing her over to a baby sitter in mid-June.
A sheriff’s official offered this outline of the three tips by the utility worker in August:
On Aug. 11, the meter reader called the sheriff’s office to report a bag on the “right side” of the road near the intersection of Suburban and Hopespring drives. The meter reader was not there when a deputy arrived. The officer found nothing.
On Aug. 12, the worker called Crimeline, which collects tips on unsolved crimes. That information was documented and sent to a detective, who made a note that the area had been searched by a cadaver dog and the tip was closed out.
On Aug. 13, after the worker called again, two deputies responded -- each arriving separately -- and met with the meter reader. At least one deputy checked the woods and found nothing.
“We will conduct an administrative follow-up to try to determine what occurred with the deputy when he responded out to the scene, why he handled himself how he did,” Nieves said.
Also Thursday, the sheriff’s office released 173 photos of the crime scene. The pictures include several aerial shots of the dense woods at dusk, and one photo that appears to show packaging or a book among the foliage.
One of the last known videos of Caylee shows her reading a book.
The sheriff’s office would not discuss the photos or their significance.