Search expands for missing Northern California family
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) ” Rescue teams struggled through several feet of snow Wednesday searching for a father and his three children who have been missing since they left to hunt for a Christmas tree over the weekend in a remote Northern California mountain range.
The teams were racing time and the elements, as a powerful storm carrying even more snow was bearing down on the region.
Frederick Dominguez, 38, and his children ” Christopher, 18, Alexis, 14, and Joshua, 12 ” have been missing since Sunday in the region about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
Dominguez’s pickup truck was found Monday night parked along a mountain road some 25 miles northeast of Chico.
More than a foot of snow has fallen in the area since the family disappeared, and wind-driven snow drifts ranged from 1 to 7 feet deep, said Paradise Police Sgt. Steve Rowe.
Crews set out on foot and on snowmobile Wednesday morning and said they believe they have a window of a few good hours before another storm is expected to hit the area. Low clouds prevented aerial search efforts.
The family was not equipped to spend the night outdoors, wearing just T-shirts, jeans, light jackets and sneakers. They were between 4,000 and 6,000 feet elevation in a rugged area marked by steep canyons. Temperatures plunged into the 20s, Rowe said.
“They weren’t expecting snow and they weren’t thinking that they were going to be out there very long,” Dominguez’s ex-wife, Lisa Sams, told Fox News on Wednesday.
Dominguez worked at a family owned pest control business in Paradise, which closed so employees could assist in the search. Employees also are raising money in case the family is found alive and needs to pay medical bills.
“They will keep doing it until we find them,” said Nikki Stahl, whose husband, Cory, owns Hunter’s Pest Control and is leading a search team of about 20 current and former employees. “It’s like our own family.”
She said Dominguez moved to the rural foothill town of Paradise about a year ago from Los Angeles to be closer to his children, who live with his ex-wife, Lisa Sams. Stahl said Dominguez was unfamiliar with the area and its winter weather.
Co-workers said he is devoted to his children and takes them to church every Sunday, as he did this weekend before heading out in search of a Christmas tree.
“He lives for his family,” said Mairleen Grove, the company’s office manager. “When he walks in the door, he makes everybody smile.”
The children’s stepfather, Brian Clarke, also works at Hunter’s Pest Control and is part of the company’s search effort, Grove said.
Authorities believe Dominguez and the children went to church Sunday before leaving for the mountains.
He parked his Chevrolet pickup along a road near the mountain hamlet of Inskip on Sunday afternoon, then likely walked downhill into the woods with his children and became lost, Butte County Search and Rescue spokeswoman Madde Watt said.
“You could get turned around very quickly,” she said.
It was clear at the time and for hours after the family entered the woods. The first storm wave didn’t hit until Monday.
Because Dominguez had custody of his children at the time, his ex-wife did not know they were missing until she discovered that her youngest child failed to show up at school Monday. Authorities were alerted at 8 p.m. Monday and immediately began a search.
They quickly found the pickup, which had no snow underneath it but 8 inches on the ground around it by the time the rescue effort began.
The area is dotted with cabins and caves, and rescuers hope the family took shelter in one of them.
“Hopefully, that’s where we’ll find them,” Watt said.
Rowe said rescuers battled snowy conditions to continue the search overnight Tuesday. The effort expanded significantly Wednesday morning, as snow had stopped falling for the first time since the family went missing.
More than 80 police and rescue workers were searching in a grid, and more were on their way from the San Francisco Bay area and Nevada.
The search intensified as another moisture-laden Pacific storm was heading toward California, expected to blanket most of the northern state with rain and snow by late Wednesday afternoon.
About 2 feet of snow is expected to fall Wednesday night and Thursday morning in the area where the family is missing, said Jared Leighton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Sacramento. Winds gusts could reach 45 mph.