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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Images on cars will focus on Daytona Beach missing persons case

Joe Nemecheck's car
Images on cars will focus on Daytona Beach missing persons case
By George Diaz
DAYTONA BEACH — Diane Hollins and her daughter Tammy disappeared 32 years ago.

A neighbor saw them walking toward the railroad tracks near their Daytona Beach home around 6 a.m. on June 11, 1979. Then they were gone.

No bodies. No evidence. No clues.

It's been three decades of unanswered questions, pain, agony, uncertainty and anguish for their family. Fill-in-the-blanks, they've felt it. The horror has been unspeakable.

"We want to know if they are living or if they are dead," said Diane's sister, Loretta Robinson.

Robinson isn't a racing fan — she has no plans on embracing the rumble and roar at Daytona International Speedway this weekend. But she has found a compassionate ally in the NASCAR garage.

Two cars in Friday's Subway Jalapeno 250 Nationwide Series race will bear the images of her sister and niece —Kevin Conway's No. 87 Toyota will feature Diane and teammate/owner Joe Nemechek's No. 97 Toyota will feature Tammy. Their images will be on the back of the car, along with contact information for the Daytona Beach Police Department.

It's a Hail Mary play, in all honesty. The police department has no leads and really never did.

Diane never showed up for work that day and Tammy didn't go to school. They left all their stuff in the house, all their money in the bank. They had no car.

They just walked somewhere and vanished.

"This case really intrigues me," said Steve Beres, deputy chief of police of the Daytona Beach Police Department. "We owe it to the family. We owe it to everybody out there. We owe it to Tammy and Diane."

Conway reached out to Beres on June 15, asking about the possibility of featuring a missing persons case on their cars. Out of about 15 cold cases at the Daytona Beach Police Department, this one stood out.

Conway's ExtenZe and NEMCO Motorsports group has done this four times before, starting in Kansas this season. The unusual partnership has produced a few leads. In California, the group featured Jack Daniel Phillips, a 9-year-old who was last seen at a campground in August 1995. His mom saw a TV report from trackside and called the media-relations manager of the group. She was then able to connect with the San Bernardino police department, which had lost touch with her.

Working with police departments trying to solve cold cases is an offshoot of the "ExtenZe Local Hero" program that honors "people who have gone to great lengths to make a difference in their communities." This takes it to another level, with elements of mystery and emotional trauma for the families involved.

"It's amazing how many cases end up going cold," Conway said. "When you think how many years have gone by, it's amazing how somebody can fall off the radar without a clue."

Robinson was ecstatic when Beres called her for permission to use the images of Diane and Tammy. So much time has passed. Both parents are dead and so is an older sister. Now 72, Robinson still lives in Daytona Beach with her husband. A daughter, sister and brother are still here too.

Her thoughts keep coming back to the same thing: "It's hard to believe she's been gone that long."

Tammy was 14 when she disappeared. She is African-American, 5 foot 2 with brown eyes. She weighed 105 pounds. Diane was 31, 5 foot 6, brown eyes, too. She weighed 135 pounds.

In the promotional blitz of soft drinks, snack foods and home improvement stores, the poignant images of Diane and Tammy will roll by the track for 100 laps Friday night.

Will that 250-mile journey bring closure for the family?

Maybe, just maybe, they will be found in a blur. Just like the moment they disappeared 32 years ago.

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