VERO BEACH, Fla. — The Indian River County Sheriff's Office said Thursday they are working to identify a man whose skeletal remains were found late last year.
The remains were found Dec. 14 in an undeveloped wooded property near 53rd Street and U.S. Highway 1 following an unrelated investigation.
Sheriff Eric Flowers said the case began after the Vero Beach Police Department received a call in the area of Dahlia Lane and Mockingbird Drive in reference to three men in a vehicle possibly armed with a gun.
Vero Beach officers responded and located the vehicle driving in the area. An officer attempted to stop the vehicle, but police said it quickly fled at a reckless, high speed.
A short time later, officers found the vehicle unoccupied near 53rd Street and discovered that it had crashed. Several witnesses stated that three men were seen running from the vehicle into a heavily wooded area north of 53rd Street.
While searching for the three men, the Indian River County Sheriff's K-9 deputies and officers that were in the woods located skeleton remains in an undeveloped wooded property near 53rd Street and U.S. Highway 1.
Watch the full news conference below:
Flowers said the remains had been there for some time and were unrelated to the search for the armed subjects. The location of the remains was flagged and the deputies continued to track the subjects through the woods. All three men were located and taken into custody a short time later.
Once the men were in custody, Flower said the investigation turned to the found remains, which were spread over a "pretty large area."
Detectives responded to the area to begin their investigation. The medical examiner's office examined the remains and believes they are of an Asian man, potentially Japanese, in his 50s or 60s who was about 5-foot-9. However, investigators said they could not rule out that the man may have been Hispanic or Native American.
"Initially, we took the skull to the medical examiner's office, had the teeth examined to see if we had any missing person's cases that this would fit, and we found nothing," Flowers said. "We do not have a hit for any missing people that are out there."
The sheriff's office said they used facial bone imaging and reconstruction to provide a sketch of what he may have looked like.
Flower said there was a homeless encampment about a half-mile away from where the bones were found, but it's unclear if it's connected to the case.
"The teeth were all intact," Flower said. "To me, it never once looked like a homeless person."
The sheriff said the bones were in "good shape" and the cause of death was unclear.
"We've sent a call out to other counties, to other parts of the country, and as of this time, we cannot identify this person," Flowers said.
He didn't rule out that human trafficking could be connected to the man's death.
"That's one of my concerns in this case, for sure, is that this is a person who was brought in for human trafficking," Flowers said. "They may have been killed and nobody ever reported it."
Flowers said the next step is submitting the man's DNA to a genealogy site to hopefully identify family members, but he said that could take years.
Investigators are asking for the public's help in identifying the remains.
If you recognize the man or have any information regarding this incident, contact the sheriff's office at 772-569-6700.