Skeletal remains from Lake Mead are from person who died nearly 49 years ago

Photo taken on March 13, 2023 shows Lake Mead on the side of Nevada, the United States. (Photo by Zeng Hui/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Human remains found last October on the shoreline of shrinking Lake Mead were from a North Las Vegas man who drowned in April 1974, authorities in Las Vegas said Tuesday.

Donald P. Smith was 39 when he was reported missing in the waters of the Colorado River reservoir behind Hoover Dam, the Clark County coroner’s office said in a statement. The identification was made through DNA, and his death has been ruled accidental.

Coroner’s investigators are still trying to identify other remains found last year while the lake recedes because of drought, county spokeswoman Stacey Welling said. That includes those of a man who Las Vegas police say was shot in the head and stuffed into a barrel found in May 2022 near a popular swimming and boating area about a 30-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip.

Police in Las Vegas and neighboring North Las Vegas, and city officials in North Las Vegas said they did not immediately have information about a missing person or drowning report related to Smith, or family contacts.

His were the last of a series of remains publicly reported to have been found last year at the lake, which has for decades been a fishing, swimming and boating destination — and the object of lore about being a dumping ground for the underworld during the early years of the Las Vegas Strip.

Remains found in May 2022 in the Callville Bay area were identified in August 2022 as those of Thomas Erndt, a 42-year-old Las Vegas father whose family said he drowned during a nighttime family boat outing late Aug. 2, 2002 at the lake.

Other skeletal remains discovered over a three-week span in late July and early August along the shoreline at the Boulder Beach swimming area belonged to one person, the coroner’s statement said Tuesday. Authorities are still trying to link a name with those remains.