PEARL RIVER - It's been almost a month since 58-year-old Gerald Oster, Jr. walked out of the home he shares with his mother to head into New Orleans as a driver for ride-share service Lyft.
"That Sunday morning, I called to ask her did he fix her breakfast because he does that when he's home and she said, 'He's not here,'" recalled Oster's sister Janet Coffelt, "I said are you sure? She said, 'No, he's not,' and that's when I started getting worried."
While relatives acknowledge Oster has dropped off the grid before, and struggles with a drug addiction, this time was different.
"Whenever he's been gone for, maybe a month or two, a couple of weeks, he's always called," said Coffelt, "This is the first time he's never touched base, in almost a month."
License plate recognition equipment spotted Oster's car March 20 in Slidell near Gause Boulevard and his cell phone last pinged from a tower near Second Street in Uptown New Orleans a day after that.
So Pearl River Police were encouraged when they got a call from NOPD late Wednesday night saying Oster's car had been found in the 7th Ward on Allen Street near St. Bernard Avenue, north of I-10.
When detectives saw that the red Rav-4 had several exit bullet holes and almost a dozen shell casings in the back seat, they called NOPD back.
Chief J.J. Jennings said the response he got was stunning.
"We asked them to process and they said no, because his ranks advised him the crime lab is busy and that they can't process it because they don't know if a crime was committed in New Orleans," recalled Jennings, "It may have been used for a drive-by shooting or another crime in New Orleans and that is my concern right there, not only for our guy missing, but for what this car may have been used in."
An hour after Eyewitness News brought Pearl River's concerns to NOPD for comment, Chief Michael Harrison was on the phone with Chief Jennings. Shortly after that, crime scene detectives were in Pearl River combing the car.
While Jennings says he's happy to have NOPD's collaboration now, his focus remains on finding his missing resident.
"I'm hoping that he is okay and I hope that someone knows where he is, to where if he sees this on the news media, that he'll call home and let us know he's okay," said Coffelt.
If you have any information about Oster's whereabouts, call Pearl River Police at 985-863-5711.
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