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Missing Woman, Hulda Crooks Park, Loma Linda, CA

Sunday, 08-10-08

The San Bernardino Mountain S&R Team was called upon to deploy to a search for a critical missing woman on Sunday, 08-10-08. The page came very early that morning, about 0200 hours. My first thought was "I sure hope this is not an early morning training reminder" since the Team was scheduled to take the Department's new Helitac Course put on by Aviation later that morning. After refocusing on my pager, I realized this was, indeed, an actual search call-out. I called the Team Commander to let him know I was on my way.

I joined up with several of my teammates, bleary-eyed, but ready to go! Pat Burns, Lucy Durfee, Ray Acevedo, Justin Wheaton, Jason Shawver, and myself were briefed on the circumstances of the call by one of our Team Coordinators, Dep. Dean Spears. huldacrooksparkmap.jpg

It seems that a young woman had been reported as a critical missing just hours prior to our being paged. She had been out with her boyfriend earlier that evening that resulted in some sort of a falling out between them. She and her boyfriend frequented the Hulda Crooks Park's wilderness trails and dirt roads for hiking and mountain biking. This is where her vehicle was located, her keys on the ground beside the car.

Two of us were paired up to clear the "city" part of the park. Two other teams of two started up the trails and dirt roads into the wilderness area. As is sometimes the case, the family was on scene. Her boyfriend, brother, and friends were there. As the teams started up the trail, they were assured by the family and friends that she would be barefoot, and sure enough, human barefoot prints were located shortly after starting out.

It was dark, but getting warm already, and somewhat humid. The teams working the trails located footprints in the soft, finely-textured soil of the heavily used trail and road. One team tracked the prints step by step, as the other moved on ahead, accompanied by the friends and family of the subject. The confirmation of prints found so early in our work was encouraging. Flagging tape was placed by the faster-moving team as the trackers kept confirming the direction of travel footprint by footprint. The boyfriend was moving quickly ahead, and suddenly she was observed laying in the middle of the dirt road, still in her black evening dress, now soiled with sand and brush. It first glance, our team suspected the worst.

Pat and Justin approached the subject and were greatly relieved to find her alive. During their initial patient survey, she admitted to having mixed anti depressants with alcohol. and having planned to hurt herself. Her disillusionment was the most prevalent of her symptoms. She couldn't remember where she was or how she got there (scary, knowing that she drove herself here!). She had several superficial cuts on her wrists, and although obvious, her boyfriend and brother were reluctant to tell the medics during their survey. They may have feared her being 51-50'd, just as she did not want to get into the ambulance, but put up no resistance. All we could really do was keep her warm until the ambulance arrived. Judging by the friends' and relatives' reactions, it seemed pretty obvious that this was somewhat the norm. It appeared she had taken medication on top of her alcohol consumption from her evening out, and questioning her as to her wellbeing was difficult. Pat communicated with her bother regarding her vitals and relayed the information back to Dep. Spears at the CP. She was stable but very much under the influence.

The ambulance company was able to drive their rig close to the proximity of the subject's location. Having their vehicle drive out to her was possible only because we had our bolt cutters in our vehicle to cut through the locked gate blocking the road. The fire department's key would not work due to the lock being jammed. Otherwise we would have all had a good exercise in litter packaging and hand-transport. We lucked out!

She was loaded into the ambulance and taken off to the hospital. We gave the family/friends a ride back to the parking lot via our team vehicle. It was not so much awkward to have them in our vehicle as it was a reminder to us to keep our conversation about our work to ourselves until we could debrief properly. Hopefully she came through her ordeal well and is back with loving family and friends.

During this search, I was reminded of one of our team trainings not too many months ago when we all had a great night-time-tracking scenario after a team meeting thanks to our exuberant and skilled training officer, Steven Bates - Thank you, Steven! Tracking in the dark and on the run!

Back at the CP, looking at our watches, we realized we were still on track to head over to Aviation for a full day of Helitac training!

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