Tragedy in a Storm

  • Over a period of 8 hours, 18 Kern and Ventura County emergency response personnel worked during the snow storm March 25 to assist and investigate a suspicious death in Lake of the Woods.

    Over a period of 8 hours, 18 Kern and Ventura County emergency response personnel worked during the snow storm March 25 to assist and investigate a suspicious death in Lake of the Woods.

By Patric Hedlund and Gary Meyer

His name will not be published here, to preserve the privacy his family needs to mourn. But the circumstances surrounding last Sunday’s stormy discovery of a man’s body about 30 yards off a frequently used national forest trail near Lake of the Woods tell much about the first response resources serving the Mountain Communities. It also reminds us of the complexities of living at the intersection of three counties.

While a snowstorm raged around them March 25, about 18 people—including emergency dispatchers, sheriff’s investigators and deputies from two counties, U.S. Forest Service personnel, firefighters from Frazier Park and Lebec, Hall Ambulance paramedics and two county coroners—all became involved over 8 hours.

Eleven vehicles from eight agencies came to the area to help.

The Mountain Enterprise was at the location three times Sunday: first at 11:30 a.m. in response to a radio dispatch, but nothing was found; second at 2:45 p.m. to check on a Breaking News call from residents who were alarmed by all the official vehicles parked in their neighborhood and all the bustling activity; and the third time at 5 p.m. to watch as the investigation was handed over from Kern County to Ventura County…but let’s start at the beginning.

According to Tyson Davis, Kern County Sheriff’s general investigations weekend watch commander, at about 11 a.m Sunday a Kern County dispatch operator called sheriff, fire and ambulance crews to gather in Lake of the Woods at Frasier Road and Lake View Drive. There had been a report that a body had been found in the forest. Emergency crews did not know the specific location, so they assembled and waited for further information.

By noon, the man’s friends had led officials to where they found his body near a trail beyond the end of Vernon Drive. All Kern County personnel regrouped there.

As they set to work, Kern County firefighters determined through GPS readings that—though all the assembled first responders were from Kern County—the body was just over the boundary line into Ventura County.

Because it was not within their jurisdiction, sheriff’s deputies had to stop all work so they could notify authorities based two hours away in Ventura.

While all of this was happening at the end of Vernon Drive, Laura Splawn was watching from her house above the scene, wondering what it was all about. She sent a 245-NEWS Breaking News report to the newspaper office, to ask what was happening. She said sheriff’s vehicles, fire trucks, an ambulance, a coroner’s van and a forest service truck had all been there.Then, she said, all but one left.

Splawn was concerned that a very public argument observed the previous day in the middle of the street just a block from the trailhead may have had something to do with all the commotion.

Meanwhile, Kern County deputies maintained control of the scene while a Ventura County deputy, a homicide investigator and coroner’s personnel were enroute from Ventura.

At about 5:30 p.m., Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Ramirez arrived to walk 150 yards along the trail with the Kern County deputy to observe the body, then Kern County officially gave custody of the scene to Ventura County.

Over the next hour, the homicide investigator and two coroner’s officials arrived. The scene was documented and the body was carefully recovered and secured so it could be transported to the Ventura County Coroner’s office. On Monday morning, the Ventura County Coroner confirmed the manner of death was suicide. The name will not be released at this time.

This is part of the March 30, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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