USFS crew finds human bones at Indian Springs | SierraSun.com
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USFS crew finds human bones at Indian Springs

DOUG MATTSON, Sun News Service

Archaeologists looking for artifacts at Indian Springs Campground last week instead found human remains, and now the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department is trying to learn more about the person – including how he or she died.

On Friday afternoon, Lt. Ron Smith, Detective Joe Salivar and Deputy Ron Phelan emerged from the campground trailhead on Eagle Lakes Road after bagging several more pieces of evidence.

Whether the evidence helps solve a mystery, including a cause of death, is a long way from being known, Smith said.

“It could be exposure. It could be darn near anything,” he said. The discovery was about a mile from the trailhead, which is a mile north of I-80 and about two miles east of the I-80/Highway 20 junction.

The archaeologists found a pair of shoes Tuesday and didn’t think much of it.

When they returned the next day and found more evidence, the Sheriff’s Department was notified, said Smith, who first visited the site on Thursday.

Altogether, authorities collected about 30 pieces of evidence scattered over several hundred yards.

The evidence, according to the Sheriff’s Department, included:

– A lower jaw with many teeth intact, including gold teeth, which was found by two U.S. Forest Service archaeologists. A logging operation is planned for the area, and the USFS is required to search for artifacts before approving any tree-cutting, Smith explained.

– Several bones believed to be human, and clothing that included badly deteriorated Wrangler jeans, a plaid blue-and-tan shirt, Northwest Territory hiking boots and prescription glasses.

– Several keys on a single ring. Some appear to go with a Ford vehicle, another appears to be a post office box key, Undersheriff John Trauner said.

– Bear droppings that appear to contain clothing fabric. There were also large bear scratch marks on trees near the evidence, Smith said.

Two search dogs helped find more bone fragments Friday, but it’s still unknown if they belonged to a human.

The evidence was photographed and also mapped with a Global Positioning System before it was bagged and transported to the Sheriff’s Department Truckee substation.

Forensic experts will be called upon in the coming days and weeks, Smith said.

An anthropologist from California State University at Chico, who’s helped the department in past cases, will be asked to identify which of the remains are human and help learn the victim’s age and gender, Smith said.

A forensic odontologist will be asked to chart the teeth, and those records will be compared with others kept by the state Department of Justice, Trauner said.

There was no flesh on the bones and the clothing was extremely deteriorated, Trauner said, leading him to believe the body had been in the woods a long time. That makes it harder to know how the person died.

“We have no idea. Like anything else, you don’t rule out anything at this point,” he said. “Was it simply a lost person, a hiker, a homicide? We won’t know that for quite some time.”

Trauner wasn’t aware of any local missing persons files and said it’s likely the victim was from outside the county.

But the evidence is better than a similar finding from a year ago.

Smith said a human skull was found in a Bear Valley logging area, but a thorough search only turned up animal bones, and the identity of that person remains unknown.


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