A woman whose husband’s decomposing body lay undetected for eight months in his truck in an uncovered Kansas City, Missouri, airport parking lot hopes that no other family will ever again endure what the man’s family has faced.
“What happened to him should never have happened,” Carolina Potter, the wife of Randy Potter, tells PEOPLE.
She, her family and their hired private investigator searched for eight months after alerting local and airport police that Randy, 53, went missing on Jan. 17. Authorities believe he likely committed suicide that same day, after driving from his home in suburban Lenexa, Kansas, and across the state line into Missouri before parking in the long-term Lot B at Kansas City International Airport.
After a report of a foul odor, police found his remains about 7:45 p.m. Sept. 12 covered by a blanket in the reclined driver’s seat of his white 2014 Dodge Ram parked in Row 5A of the lot.
Within the first week of his disappearance, Carolina, Randy’s brother Dennis, and niece Melissa Alderman together visited the city-owned airport to search for Randy s vehicle and ask airport authorities for help.
“We were thinking, ‘Okay, let’s just say he left. How would you leave? Airport, train station, bus station?,” says Carolina. They drove through the airport lots themselves, she says, and stopped at the parking lot office to give a description of the vehicle and its Kansas license tag number to a clerk, who ran the information through a computer and found no indication that Randy’s truck was on the property.
Carolina says airport police told her they did regular tag checks and assured her, “If he’s here, we’ll find [the car]. We do these tag checks every night.”
Kansas law requires only one license tag per vehicle, and it must be attached to the rear of the vehicle, not the front. Because Randy had backed his truck into the parking space, the license tag would not have been visible in a drive-by patrol, says John Picerno, the attorney working with the Potter family.
“Obviously what went wrong ultimately was that the authorities did not search the parking lot as was promised to my clients,” Picerno tells PEOPLE. “They were told that the lot would be inspected basically daily.”
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With the assurances from airport authorities, the Potter family and its investigator, John Underhill, refocused their attention elsewhere.
Tragically that meant Carolina and her late husband’s family were left without answers for eight months. Even after Randy was found, Carolina found herself having to ask more questions.
“How is that possible?” she asks. “If I park my car, I always look inside the next car. You never know — it could be a child, a pet — I just want to make sure everything is okay.”
“Things like this cannot go unnoticed. The world of the missing needs a voice. All the authorities need to check with each other, not playing the selfish game about jurisdiction.”
Despite this, Carolina withheld immediate blame. “Without any questions, there are very good people who work at the airport,” she says. “The vast majority, they’re all good people.”
Picerno, the Potter family attorney, says more could have been done and authorities should be looking for abandoned cars — especially with post-9/11 safety concerns and the proximity of those parked vehicles to the airport and runways. “What if something really nefarious had been in that car?,” he says.
It’s a comparison made as well by Carolina, who works as a flight attendant: “That truck could have been loaded with dynamite,” she says.
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Randy’s family were not the only ones who looked into the possibility of Randy being at the airport.
A Lenexa, Kansas, Police spokesman tells PEOPLE his agency early on also contacted the airport and additional authorities, such as the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Passport agency, to learn if Randy may have boarded a flight. “We were advised that he had not, so we wouldn’t have had any reason to conduct a search at the airport,” says the police spokesman, Danny Chavez.
Once the remains were located in the vehicle at the airport, “it is standard operating procedure for homicide detectives to respond to these situations,” Chris Hernandez, a spokesman for the City of Kansas City, tells PEOPLE in a text. “The KCPD has determined that this is a suicide.”
An earlier statement from the city said: “We are working with all parties to determine the facts involved, including SP Plus, which manages the 25,000 parking spaces at Kansas City International Airport.”
Carolina, a native of Sicily, says she met her husband while he was stationed there with the U.S. Navy, with which he served for 16 years before retiring in 1999. She said they met in the late 1980s, married on May 9, 1992, and have two children, Nichole, 27, and Matthew, 24. Randy was a project engineer for T-Mobile and the family had moved to metro Kansas City for his work.
She says she had no indication he may have been suicidal. “Not at all,” she says. “The only indication I had, he was not happy at work. But you know, maybe the military in him, what have you — he was not very good at expressing his feelings. You had to really pull it out of him.” On the day he vanished from her life, “he got up early,” she says. “I’m pretty sure he walked our dog.”
“He was there for everybody, everybody that needed something, needed help, needed a lift, a boost of morale, he was always there,” she says. “His co-workers are grieving so much that they’re reaching out to me, they just can’t even bring — it’s not just his co-workers. His kids, my son, we’re all broken right now.”
“He was so sarcastic. He loved to tease us,” she says. “I miss his laugh. … He just put a smile to our face.”
Says the attorney Picerno: “The main objective of the family is to ensure that this never happens to anyone else. And the secondary goal is to find out what exactly happened in Randy’s case, and who did what and what things were not done. Those are the questions the family wants answered.”