Slow and Steady

patrick walkerBy Patrick Walker

Early on a misty June morning in Redwood Regional Park, in the hills between Oakland and Moraga, my dad and I were running ahead of the pack on a 20-mile run with my Boy Scout troop. This annual run helps us train for a summer High Sierra backpacking trek.

We were about 12 miles along and passing through a grove of ancient redwoods, quiet and still in the fog, when I noticed in the distance someone hunched on the side of the trail. It didn’t look right.

As I drew closer, I saw a person sitting with legs crossed, his head bowed and hidden inside a cinched hoodie. My SAR instincts and training immediately took over. I stopped a few feet away and asked him if he was OK. He did not respond. I spoke louder and authoritatively. “Sir, are you okay?”  He shook his head.

I asked him to remove his hoodie so I could see him and with slow, deliberate movements he obeyed my request. He was a Caucasian male in his mid-20s, unshaven and bewildered.

 “Can you talk?” I asked. He responded with a scarcely audible, “I think so.”

“Are you hurting?”

“I’m cold. Very cold.”

I asked how long he had been there. He said he came to the park the night before to “clear his head,” became disoriented when it grew dark and lost his way. He wandered in the night and eventually gave up trying to find his way back to his car and eventually found a place to sit down. He had endured a very cold and lonely night and was shivering, hungry, cramping up and confused.

I told him I have had medical training and could help him. For the first time, he looked up and offered a slight smile.

I asked if anyone would have reported him missing. With a touch of melancholy he said, “No one is expecting me back except my boss.”

I asked him to stand up. He was cold and stiff.

A couple of miles away was a Cub Scout camp where I knew they had fire, food and warmth.

“Can you walk?”

“I can try.”

Slowly, we began our trek. After a while, we passed members of my Boy Scout troop running along the path. They were surprised to see me going the opposite way. I told them that I was taking a break from the run to help someone. When I encountered the leader of the troop, he said, “Geez, Patrick, you find lost people even when you’re not looking for them!”

Our journey was painstakingly slow as he clearly was not well physically and maybe mentally. I was glad my dad was with me because I’m not sure I would have been comfortable alone with him. I suspected drugs or alcohol may have been an issue and he could have been suicidal.

As we walked slowly beneath the redwoods, he spoke. He said he felt lucky that we found him, and he said he appreciated our helping him. He asked my name and said his was Jeremy (name changed for privacy).

A half-hour later we made it to the Cub Scout camp. The troop had a fire blazing, hot chocolate and hot food, and the Scouts were generous in sharing it with Jeremy. I left him there with my dad, and then ran several miles further on to where a ranger lived. After explaining the circumstances and Jeremy’s current status, the ranger said he would take over and transport him to medical treatment.

I returned to the camp and Jeremy was seated by the campfire with a cup of hot chocolate, now warmed up, even smiling. We said our goodbyes and I rejoined the 20-mile run.

I was now in last place instead of first, but I knew that what I was able to do for a fellow human being – thanks to my training and experience on COCOSAR – was far more important than winning a race.

A Great Result

- Article from

Luba Lusherovich, 77, was found in the Norris Canyon area after 185 search and rescue personnel from nine counties converged on San Ramon to help find her.
Lusherovich walked away from her family's home near Bollinger Canyon Road and Marsh Drive, and efforts to find her grew more urgent as the days passed.

Kelsey Lusherovich, Luba Lusherovich's granddaughter-in-law, said the family was notified that the elderly relative had been found and that she was taken to a hospital to be evaluated but is expected to be OK. The younger woman said the older woman was conscious and talking, but dehydrated.

"I'm ecstatic; frankly, this is a miracle," she said. "She had no food, no money, no water … I don't know how much more miraculous it could get."

San Ramon police Sgt. Hollis Tong said she was found near a creek on Norris Canyon Road. Search and rescue dogs from the California Rescue Dogs Association first found a shoe, then a piece of clothing.

The handlers notified the command post at 2:15 p.m. that the dogs had picked up her scent and followed it to a house, where they found her, conscious and smiling, Tong said.

It was Ammo's first find, said handler Sonya Roth of her yellow Labrador retriever. "I was so excited I was shaking when we found her," Roth said. "That thrill … that's why we do this. Ammo may have saved her life."

Search-and-rescue crews from Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, Marin, Sonoma, Solano, San Mateo, Napa and Sacramento counties concentrated their search Saturday near the hilly area of Norris Canyon Road, near Castro Valley, and near the family home, Tong said.

There had been concerns that Lusherovich, a friendly European immigrant who once helped to teach kindergartners in Walnut Creek and Pleasanton, may have left the area, even though she left home without money. She also was without her medications, Tong said.

A police officer saw her on Norris Canyon Road as it heads toward Castro Valley around 2 p.m. Wednesday, but police had not yet been notified that Lusherovich was missing.

Police grew more worried as the days ticked by without finding her. More than 100 civilian volunteers came out Saturday to help search. "Everyone from all walks of life came out to find Luba," Tong said. "Time was of the essence."

SAR Coordinator’s Note

WP KovarAs the Team has closed out 2013 I want to take a moment to thank each and every SAR member for their incredible contributions to the SAR Team and the Office of the Sheriff this past year.  SAR Team members contributed over 45,000 hours of service to the team and the community you serve in 2013.  This contribution equates to over 20 full time positions in the Office of the Sheriff. This is a salary equivalency of over $2.5 million dollars. 

The SAR Team participated in 53 missions, countless medical details, PR details and other special functions through-out the year.  In accomplishing the above, the SAR Team supported 22 different law enforcement agencies in and around the county.  Additionally, the SAR team responded to 12 mutual aid call outs outside of Contra Costa County.

There were many noteworthy callouts, starting with the New Years Day epic carryout of a rescued hiker in the hills of Marin. There was a multi-day search for a naked 6’ 8” tall man in Sonoma County in the Spring.  We had two team members on separate searches locate a missing subject while en-route to the CP.  Our growing trailing K9 resource continued to see more calls for service.  There was the successful find of the missing 4yo girl in Richmond (asleep under her bed).

On a more somber note, our team assisted with body recoveries in Solano and Nevada Counties. While sad, these searches brought about closure to the missing person’s families. 

In 2013 the team continued to assist with evidence searches helping local agencies with personnel and expertise. One event included the eradication of a pot grow on a remote island in the Delta. Additionally, the metal detector squad participated in many evidence searches and successfully recovered weapons and elicit drugs.

In September the SAR Team was tasked with responding to the Morgan wild land fire on the East side of Mt. Diablo.  This was a difficult call and required a very dynamic and flexible response by all.  The team played a critical role in evacuation of residents at risk from the wildfire.

Another disaster related capability the team played a critical role in was the Urban Shield Mass Fatality exercise in October.  Urban Shield tested the County’s capability to respond to a mass fatality event. This exercise proved that the SAR Team is critical to the County’s response to large disasters and has paved the way for future integration.

The above only briefly touches on the incredible amount of work each member dedicates to the team.  But it is a testament to your dedication.

The team is situated and ready for an incredible 2014.  I can’t wait to be a part of it with you.

Team Commendations, December 2013

Peabody JackJack Peabody
Quietly, behind the scenes, Jack has been putting in a lot of work and effort with the MRG Group and preparing MRG members for their ELT recertification testing in March. Jack has organized a training plan to accomplish this and has recruited and trained a squad of team members as well. And many times now Jack has been up early in the still-dark dark hours to go out and station beacons and tracks so the squad can train. A big thank you, Jack!

Steve Filippoff and Tim MurphymurphyFilippoff
Over a year ago, both Tim and Steve began work in training their canines to become CoCoSAR-certified trailing dogs. This past month, along with their canines, they both passed their tests and became certified members of the Canine Resource. This is a huge accomplishment and has required an immense amount of time, dedication and sacrifice on their part. Adding two more trailing canines to our team adds a tremendous additional ability for us to find our missing subjects and/or determine a direction of travel for them. This will greatly enhance our team’s response to an emergency. Well done, Tim and Steve!

wilma murrayWilma Murray
Wilma led an excellent and energized group of team members that produced our recent SAR holiday party last month. She led the effort from the very first Social SAR meeting in early 2013 to the very end of the event in December. It was a great success! Wilma was also a leader in helping many fellow team members out in recertifying their EMR certification by organizing skillset training prior to testing. Well done, Wilma.

Team Commendations, November 2013

Command Staff is pleased to select these two team members for November Member Recognition;

 Harrison Robert-MBob Harrison
Bob is commended for his tireless work as the Medical Sgt. for CoCoSAR. His leadership in organizing, recruiting and executing over 12 Medical Support Missions for various events during the year has been outstanding. These Medical Missions places our SAR Team in the spotlight among our community; Bob’s work has been professional and very much appreciated!

Chris Coelho
Coelho Chris-MChris is a very active SAR Team Member and has just been appointed the Mountain Rescue Group (MRG) Lead for the team. His past work as the MRG Logistics has greatly enhanced the readiness of that group for future missions. Chris was also a proctor for the recent Wilderness Emergency Medical Responder (WEMR) Class.



Updated – Team Commendations, October 2013

Command Staff is pleased to announce the below team members as being selected for the October 2013 Member Recognition:

Lamb SteveSteve Lamb
Steve has been a busy bee on a number of activities for the SAR Team. He has been behind the scenes assisting with Logistics on a number of trainings including Urban Shield. Mainly, Steve has logged many hours with his work within USAR Logistics in doing outstanding work in organizing both the USAR Truck and USAR Trailer. His work places the SAR Team in even a better position to respond to an emergency.

Casey Riggs / Micheal RiggsRiggs Micheal Riggs Casey
Seems that both Casey and Micheal have found a niche within the Type 3 and Type 2 Academies. We believe that there was not one class or training that they did not attend and help out. That is a lot time and commitment. Add on top of that being Coach to several new Cadets and throw on top of that they attended the full team training and searches for the month. Thank you Casey and Micheal for your hard work and dedication to the SAR Team and your community.

Banuelos JohnEd_GriffithFong LarryJohn Banuelos, Ed Griffith, Larry Fong
For tremendous work, effort, and long hours over the Type II and Type III academies, as well as UNO, John Banuelos, Ed Griffith and Larry Fong earned captain’s commendations. Another great Academy season!

Eichinger WalterWalter Eichinger
And not to be forgotten: Walter Eichinger received a captain’s commendation for his extensive recent body of work. Walter has numerous jobs on the team, including among them HR lieutenant, Hasty Squad sergeant, Cadets advisor and Social Committee advisor. He put on a successful Hasty Squad training in August that required coordination with multiple agencies. In recent months he has also hosted a movie night at the Brendan Theatre and a full-team picnic. Walter’s HR responsibilities involve, among other things, tracking hours, team trainings and membership compliance, as well as updating the team roster each month. Well done, Walter!

Closure – The Gene Penaflor Tale

By John Banuelos
The year 2013 has certainly has been one of the more challenging years for CoCoSAR missions. In recent months, CoCoSAR has sought subjects in remote locations, subjects who were either found deceased or not found at all. For a searcher, any searcher, this is not the desired result. We all live for the words “found in good health.” But even just the word “found,” which can be code for “found deceased,” provides closure for families.
Closure is important for all – the best case obviously being “found in good health.” But even just “found” allows a family and friends to address their goodbyes to the spirit of a loved one. As searchers, we return to our regular lives knowing we have provided some form of comfort either way by answering the question, “Where is our loved one?”
penaflor aGene Penaflor disappeared while hunting on Hull Mountain. For days local SAR teams worked the high-probability areas, seeking to find this experienced, 72-year-old hunter. SAR and Sheriff resources deployed in a multi-day search effort.  Everyone wanted him found as the cold and impending bad weather of the year was coming, but nobody wanted him found more than his family and his longtime hunting partner. Hope of success filled the air over many days.
Like all the SAR members on Hull Mountain, Gene’s family and friends stayed the long days and cold nights on the mountain. They prayed for good news as SAR members returned from assigned searches. They helped as best they could in determining where their beloved family member and friend might have strayed.
Eventually a search must be called when the search team feels it has done its best. In this case, the decision to stop carried a great burden for the search manager and every searcher: The family had stood watch at the edge of the operation center waiting for news, any news. How do you tell people who love the subject that volunteer resources need to return home, high-probability areas have been covered multiple times, and the impending poor weather may prevent a safe continuation of effort? In truth there is no easy way to do this.
We all hoped for good news before the final decision needed to be made. We quietly talked among ourselves about staying on despite the impending weather. Yet, the hour came when SAR members and family stood together for that final talk. The families and friends understood the choices and decisions that had been made, they thanked everyone for their efforts, and then the tears came. There was to be no closure for them on that day.
Seeing the tears of a family was a new experience for me, but hearing the sobs of sadness from his longtime hunting partner resonated even deeper. A searcher asks him/herself many questions. Can I stay and help this family? Did I search hard enough? What more can I do? One does not wish to leave with the memory of these quiet tears and heavy sobs.
gene penaflorStill in the end, we searchers left, pondering on the long drive home, “Did I do enough?” Even as regular life resumed, the memory of those tears and that question continued to haunt us.
Lack of closure is the worst of all situations for all involved; no one is untouched.
But for Gene Penaflor the miracle of miracles occurred. For 19 days he survived, lost and injured in a remote canyon. He was found by hunters in the area, and then recovered by SAR and Sheriff resources. He was returned to the smiles and happy tears of reunion with family and friends.
Closure was, after all, granted. And relief was granted to all who left amidst the sad tears of that day, for Gene had been “found in good health.”
The following was written for another who was found deceased. It is my source of courage for searches to come. I call it my SAR prayer.
My uniform lies on the chair. My gear is next to it. My silent prayer continues, “May no one be lost or in silent distress shrouded by the darkness. But should they be, we will go out to search for them until found.”

Team Commendations, July 2013

Diane Blue / Wilma Murray
Both Diane and Wilma put in a tremendous volume of work with the New Member Orientation, Application, and Oral Board process for the Type 3 Academy. Once again this duo represented the SAR Team and Sheriff Dept. in a professional and excellent manner with all the new applicants. We now have 35 excellent Type 3 students for our Sept. Academy which will greatly benefit the SAR Team.

Cindee Valentin / Carol O’Neil / Jennifer Wright
These three team members are the leadership our of Canine Resource. During July they each logged a great deal of hours into training new canines as well as new student canine handlers. This is in addition to conducting the twice a week regular trainings the resource has. In end the goal of additional canines will greatly enhance our search capabilities and our team.


Mission Summary: June 2013

  • 6/9/2013 – Bike to Bridges. There were four CoCoSAR bikes involved. There was some confusion about how much of the ride was to be covered (of the 25 miles) and one member of the group had difficulty about halfway through the ride. It was suggested that there should be a policy to state that riders only have a partial area to cover.
  • 6/24/13 – A hiker (35 years old) called his family as it was getting dark and said he was lost on Mt. Tamalpais. Shortly after that, his phone battery died. Marin searched in the night and called for mutual aid first thing in the morning. CoCoSAR was en route when the hiker self-rescued. Read team member John Hubinger's write-up of this callout.
  • 6/28/13 – Sheriff’s Office SERT competition. Twenty SAR members attended the SERT competition and were tasked with crowd control rather than medical. There was no ambulance standing by, however, and there were two injuries and five heat-related issues.