SDMRT 2020-13 Otay Open Space

SDMRT Operations Report 2020-13
Full Callout, Missing Person, Otay Lakes Area of San Diego, CA
Roberto Camou
26-27 April 2020

Operation Period 1, 4/26/2020:

SDMRT Responders: Marshal Masser, Nick McGuiness, Pete Jenkins, Will Maisch, Brian White, Richard Yocum, Alicia Trigeiro, Bill McNaul, Kelly Sloan, Sukhung Shin, and Dennis Peck.
SDMRT ITC: Hugo Bermudez

Operation Period 2, 4/27/2020:

SDMRT Responders: Dennis Peck, Brandan Ryel, Bill McNaul, Marshall Masser, Will Maisch, and Jennifer Macelt
SDMRT ITC: Hugo Bermudez

Operation Period 3, 4/28/2020:

SDMRT Responders: Bill McNaul, Lee Tomatsu, Alicia Trigeiro, Nick McGuinness, Richard Yocum, David Brandt, Marshall Masser, Pete Jenkins, and Kelly Sloan
SDMRT ITC: Hugo Bermudez

Operation Period 4, 4/29/2020:

SDMRT Responders: Dennis Peck, Richard Yocum, and David Brandt
SDMRT ITC: Hugo Bermudez

Other Responding Organizations: SDSD SAR, off-road enforcement unit, and deputies; BORSTAR; Border Patrol; ASTREA, Border Patrol, and SD Fire helicopters. 50-60 searchers for OP1, and similar numbers for OP2 and OP3, and about 20 for OP4. Total personnel over all 4 days was 87 (unique individuals).

Short Summary:

  • Type of Callout: Full callout
  • In County or Mutual Aid: In County
  • Type of search: Search for missing off-ride motorcyclist
  • Environment: Wilderness
  • Location
    • LKP: Location ascertained from background in photo he messaged his wife, ridgeline near Marron Valley, just east of Otay Mountain Wilderness (11S NS 21245 06782)
    • Command Post: 446 Alta Road, San Diego, CA 92179, at the George Bailey Detention Center (11S NS 07384 05760)
    • Found: Located deceased by citizen volunteer searchers
  • Operations
    • Searcher callout: Initial callout 4/26/2020 at 1514
    • Conclusion of operations: Subject located deceased, and 10-22 issued at 1325 on 4/29/20
  • Information about the Subject:
    • Number/Name(s) of Subject(s): 1 subject, Roberto “Bobby” Camou
    • Age/Gender: 48-year-old male
    • Level of fitness and experience: Good, experienced off-road motorcyclist
    • Mental status: No reported problems
    • Injuries: None reported
    • How were they found: Located deceased by citizen volunteer searchers
  • Injuries to Searchers: None reported
  • Aircraft used: ASTREA, San Diego Fire, and BP helicopters

Descriptive Report:

Operational Period 1:

Roberto “Bobby” Camou is a 48-year-old light-skinned Hispanic male San Diego court clerk, 6’0” 185 pounds, brown hair and eyes, chest tattoo, who went off-road riding on Saturday 4/25/2020 in the Otay Lakes, Otay Mountain, and Proctor Valley areas. He left his residence at 0930, sent his wife a photo of himself shirtless in front of his bike at 1212 and was supposed to return home by 1630 but did not show up and has not been heard from since. He rides a red and white Beta dual-sport motorcycle with an after-market large capacity gas tank with 100-150 mile range, and wears blue and white cycling attire. His family called authorities about 2115 to report him missing.

Initial search efforts prior SAR activation beginning approximately 2130 on 4/25 and continuing all day on 4/26 were conducted by SDSD deputies and off-road enforcement units, BORSTAR, and ASTREA, Border Patrol (BP), and SD Fire helicopters. It was reported that most of the trails in the area have been searched by scores to hundreds of citizen riders on various off-road bikes and vehicles. SAR was activated on 4/26 at 1514.

The location of the photo that Roberto sent his wife at 1212 on 4/25 was ascertained by matching the terrain to that in the background of his photo and determined to be on a ridgeline near Marron Valley (11S NS 21245 06782), just east of Otay Mountain Wilderness, and this served as the LKP. Most of the search efforts during OP 1 were focused in that area (Areas 3 through 15). Prior to focusing on that area, Teams 1 and 2 covered the south and north sides of the Otay River Valley as far west as the dam at Heritage Road, but found no clues. Most for the OP1 search efforts were conducted in twilight and darkness. LE provided some protection for the teams working very close to the Mexican border, within several hundred meters.

Eric Hannigan was working with lots of cell ping data, with certainty ranges of 1000 to 5000 meters. The most recent and smallest error datapoints were entered into Mission Manager and show a concentration around the area designated “Cell Pings” in MM (11S NS 11115 04763). Because these data were aggregated fairly late in OP1, only 1 team was sent to investigate that area that day. The terrain is very steep. Also, one of the last teams stopped on their way back to CP and launched their UAS in that area. No clues were found.

No definite clues were found during OP1 except the location of the photo and the cell pings. Efforts for OP1 concluded at approx. 0130 on 4/27, to resume with a briefing at 0800.

Operational Period 2:

OP2 focused on covering recommended areas that were initially searched during OP1 under darkness. We were rich with motorized assets from SDSD and SAR and local Rangers with few ground searchers most of the day. BORSTAR was active and checked in occasionally. ASTREA and BP helicopters flew much of the day. ASTREA reported that they flew as low as 5 feet above many trails and that they thoroughly searched what they believe are all reasonable trails and roads. The area had heavy civilian searcher traffic. Several stranded vehicles required SAR and SDSD assistance, including a truck owned by the subject and being used in the search by his family. Several rattlesnakes were seen by searchers. One BP agent was bitten today (not part of this operation). No evidence or clues of our subject were located today.

We received reports from CalOES and Air Force Rescue Coordinating Center (AFRCC)/CAP Cell Phone Forensics Team (CAPCPFT) on cell ping forensic analyses they conducted. The AFRCC analysis was the most useful in that it recommended search areas for the highest POA areas. The southernmost area was said (by AFRCC) to be the highest POA. This area was searched by two Rangers on motorcycles. The area adjacent to this area, to its west, was covered by a SAR motorcycle team (Team 23). As late as about 1200, AFRCC was reporting that the subject’s cell phone was still on although no one was responding to texts or phone call attempts. They also reported that they detected the phone to be off for a 10-minute period and that it then came back on. No explanation for this was offered.

We followed up with a reported sighting near an abandoned farmhouse (the Mocogo homestead) (Team 19). Reporting party said they spoke with the subject at 1330 on 4/25. BP reported seeing an apparent skid mark off a trail. The area was saturated by BP on the ground and in the air. Nothing was found.

Two area dogs (teams 14 and 15 – Area 18) were sent to search the area of heavy aggregate cell pings (11S NS 11084 04844). Nothing was found. A series of SDSD motor units (UAVs, Jeeps, Expeditions) were sent (Teams 17, 18, 20-22) to search areas searched under darkness during OP1 and to make more extensive the searching done around the areas of highest cell phone ping density. SAR motor searches north and east of Otay Lakes were conducted based on family input that the subject may have chosen to take one of these routes when homebound. Two foot search teams were sent to cover the trails in the area around where the subject’s photo was shot on 4/25. A third ground team was sent late in the day to cover more of the spider web of trails to the south and east of the CP.

In summary, two major search areas have developed: one to the west focused on cell pings and one to the east focused around the photo LKP.

Operational Period 3:

OP3 again had a large turnout of citizen volunteers. A Facebook post announcing the meeting place for citizen volunteer searchers at the same location of the CP was identified very early in the day and taken down. Deputies were stationed on the road below the CP for some control of entry. We dealt with misinformation flow through the public.

Search efforts were largely guided by cell phone pings forensic analytics, including the (1) Network Event LOcation System (NELOS) file from ATT, (2) the AFRCC/CAPCPFT recommendations, and (3) a viewshed analysis created in SARTopo based on the two cell towers receiving pings. Roberto’s phone was reported as stationary since at least the morning of 4/26, Saturday. Since 1901 on 4/27, no further pings were received, and the phone was reported “off,” which could mean the battery was dead. The primary and secondary locations identified by NELOS were mapped at NELOS 1 and NELOS 2, respectively, and the 0.5 mile buffer radius also shown.

Ground Teams 31 and 32 were assigned to cover the road that OP2 Team 26 was unable to reach by truck yesterday, about 3 km of the Otay Truck Trail on both sides of Otay Mountain along a ridgeline with steep sides. No clues were found.

A report of a possible sighting was investigated: Deevila Tosten who lives at 2650 Honey Springs Road, Jamul, was working in her garden late afternoon on 4/25 and saw a helmeted rider on a red and white motorcycle approach her from the east on the Barber Mountain Fire Road. He turned around and head back east on the fire road. She could offer no further description. We had ASTREA search the area from this residence to Barrett Lake including along the fire road. No clues were found.

Side-by-Side motorized Team 33 was assigned to traverse from the CP over Peak 710 to the NE side of Otay Reservoir to Otay Lakes Road, part of the assignment for OP2 Team 21. They decided to return to the CP via a different route, using a short cut. On route and near the dam, they exited the vehicle at one point and while they were both clear of the vehicle it began rolling and plunged into a concrete culvert. No one was injured. Motorized Team 38 then was deployed to the accident site to access. The vehicle, which was overturned, was left in place for the time being. The two Team 33 members were retrieved and returned to CP by other personnel.

Motorized Team 34 was assigned to cover the area from the subject’s home (1965 Bandolier Lane, San Diego, 92154) to all likely access points into the off-road area, cognizant that the subject was reported to tend to avoid highways and major roads. They travelled to the Otay Truck Trail Entrance C off Alta Road, checked Harvest Road, the residence via SR905 and freeway shoulder/brush area, back to Pio Pico via surface streets, SR94 to Marron Valley Road, to SD Rod and Gun Club, and back via Otay Lakes Road. No clues were found.

To address the OP2 Team 24 area that was not accessible from the south or SW, an area close to center of NELOS 1, ground Team 35 was able to travel the path to the northern tip of the sector, and began their search on the descent. At 11S NS 11039 04997, all 4 team members heard a single male voice calling out about 6 times over about 20 minutes. They could not make out words, except possibly “help” and “Bobby.” The location was estimated to be about ½ mile away at a bearing of 120 degrees. The UAS Team 36 working from the south side of the canyon, just off the Truck Trail, also heard a voice. A drone was sent to search the area of interest. Meanwhile, ASTREA completed their re-fuel and was sent to the coordinates for the area of interest, and then directed by Team 35 on the ground. They searched up the canyon, locating nothing but a red canopy or bag near a waterfall. No clues were found. Meanwhile, UAS Team 36 flying from 11S NS 510481 by 3604208, also heard a voice calling out. Audio announcements were made from the drone, with no apparent response. No additional clues were found.

An hour or two later, a citizen searcher came to the CP to report hearing a voice from the same canyon. He described his location along the Truck Trail as roughly approx. 11S NS 10378 04190. He described a male voice, several times, but could not make out any words. His time on location there overlapped at least in part with Teams 35 and 36. So, it is possible that the SAR teams were hearing this citizen, but overall based on team reports I think this not likely.

Ground Team 37 was deployed to NELOS 2, which required access on foot from the north to a turnaround point about 0.1 mile south of the NELOS 2 point, where they ran out of time. Hence, this assignment was not completed. No clues were found.

Team 39, William Kerr, former SDMRT member and current LE with SD Sheriff, self-deployed on an off-road vehicle, from the CP along the Truck Trail to Doghouse Junction, east on the Truck Trail and then south around the trails in the photo location vicinity, then north past the abandoned Mocogo homestead farmhouse, and continuing north all the way to SR94, west on Otay Lakes Road, and then completing the loop south to Doghouse (see map with his tracks) and back to the CP. No clues were found.

In order to further explore reports of voices from the canyon near NELOS 1, other potential canyon access points were identified. Ground Team 40 was dispatched to search Areas 19, 20, 21, and 22. Ground Team 41 was sent to search Areas 23 and 24. In Area 24, south of the Truck Trail, a set of very fresh tire tracks were followed north to the road. It was a soft suggestion to follow these tracks in the other direction. No clues were found in any of these 6 sectors. A vehicle used to transport Team 40 developed a flat tire on station along the Truck Trail. Team 42 was deployed to fix the tire and completed his mission.

During the day, an additional use of ASTREA was to search the high POA areas identified by AFRCC/ CAPCPFT. ASTREA completed searches of the 2 most northern of the 5 areas, namely those including and to the west of Otay Reservoir. After a refuel, the intent was to have them search the remaining 3 areas, but this did not happen during OP3. No clues were found.

At 1800 a SAR driver in the field was approached by citizen volunteers (including Angel Carretero) who reported they had been told by two other citizens that they had met Roberto on the trail at 1300 on 4/25, at 32.61699, -116.78460, near Donohue road. They chatted for a while, and he expressed to them that he was trying to get home by the quickest route, and intended to head north past the abandoned farmhouse through the Pink Gate to SR94. He appeared tired and his front tire was balding. They discouraged him from continuing on his intended northerly route because the trail is treacherous. So, he turned around and was last seen heading south toward the junction with the Truck Trail. The conclusion was that this report and the Nicolas report were most likely two different sightings. It is unknown if Roberto headed east on Donohue Spur, west on the Truck Trail, or back south toward the photo location.

Detective Brad spent time interviewing Roberto’s wife, Carmen Camou. There was no suggestion that Roberto is anywhere except missing from his off-road venture. The reports from his wife from Brad and from his daughter from Dave Grapilon concur that Roberto is happy with no known emotional issues or reasons to be upset. It was noted for someone reported to be a hunter with extensive overnight experience, that he could have been better prepared for an all-day outing alone. He apparently took no food, but did take his camelback for hydration. His wife said he looks quite tired in the photo he sent her. It was noted unusual that he sent his shirtless photo to his daughter and his wife. Brad discerned from the photo showed his fuel tank with relatively little remaining fuel, although the translucent tank appears about half fuel to me.

In summary, the only new clues during OP3 were multiple reports of repeatedly hearing a voice in the NELOS 1 canyon, and a probably second sighting/meeting with Roberto near the Donohue Spur, which reinforces the confidence of his being there at that time. Search efforts continued in the two areas of primary interest, namely the NELOS 1 and other high POA areas based on cell ping analyses, and the LKP/PLS areas to the east (photo location, followed by sightings). These areas are about 7 miles apart, direct line. With at least one, more likely two, sightings/meetings within 45 to 75 minutes after the photo was taken, Roberto’s LKP/PLS is reliably placed near the western end of the Donohue Spur, north of the Truck Trail intersection, and south of the Pink Gate. Both reports had him heading south. Based on the photo appearance, his wife’s take on the photo, and sighting reports, he was tired. He was looking to get home at that point. If one assumes he indeed abandoned his plan to head directly north past the abandoned Mocogo farmhouse to SR94, and he wouldn’t have headed back south to the photo location he had just left, he had 2 primary options: (1) turn west onto the Truck Trail (the most direct route back home), or (2) take the Donohue Spur east to Marron Valley road, and try to pick up SR94 going west toward home (possibly the fastest route home). Only the first of these options would place his cell phone in the areas of interest based on the pings. And the POA of the ping locations is increased by the multiple reports of hearing a voice. The recommended areas for continued searching are in the high POA ping areas, especially NELOS 1, and also the Donohue Spur to Marron Valley Road to SR94 route.

Operational Period 4:

OP4 started with no new information. Team 43 was assigned to continue the accident investigation of the overturned side-by-side vehicle near the Otay Reservoir dam spillway. The highest priority focus was to cover on foot the entire length of the Truck Trail to Marron Valley to SR94, especially the curves and downslopes. This entire length was segmented into areas each about 1 mile length. Continuing from OP3’s Teams 31 and 32, Teams 44 and 45 were assigned Areas 25 and 26, respectively, west on the Truck Trail.

At his request, I provided Jonathan Judd, BORSTAR Operator, a printout and email of the KLM file of the 5 recommended search areas from AFRCC. He planned to begin at the southernmost area and work through the areas north and west. I also discussed with Jonathan the “border road” that is in the southernmost aspect of our search area. He said that if Roberto had been on that road he would have encountered “tons” of BP agents. It is heavily patrolled. The road is actually easier to navigate than the Truck Trail. Also, it has a lot less vegetation, has the Mexican border on the south side, and in general the northern side slopes upward, so it would be harder for someone to be off the road and not visible.

I spoke with Rex Hambly, (Fire Prevention Technician 3657, California Desert Interagency Fire Program) who during his BLM patrol on 6/25 captured Roberto on his dashcam video. He provided the screen capture photo below. At 1241, Roberto was moving pretty fast, waved to Rex, traveling NW in the direction from where he sent his photo at 1212 and toward the direction of the reported sighting at 1300 and 1330. So, this information fits with the timeline and location we already knew, but increases our confidence. It does not change our PLS. Rex was in the area for a while longer, but did not encounter Roberto again.

Rex also reported to me 4 sets of coordinates of a lot of tire skid marks, which he considers to be soft evidence. He also reported these locations to Joel Epstein, who is organizing volunteer efforts. These mapped into our intended search Areas 30 and 31, on the Truck Trail.

Rex confirmed that there is a locked gate blocking the east end of Donohue Spur to Marron Valley. He told me that the route one would take from Roberto’s PLS to SR94 would have been to take the Truck Trail all the way south and SE to Marron Valley Road, about ½ mile south of the rod and gun club.

At 1135 a radio report was received by Jonathan in the CP area that citizen searchers had found Roberto. Shortly thereafter the subject was identified by 4 BORSTAR members, deceased, with his bike, at 32.33.8952, -116.52.7595 (11S NS 11328 03062). He was located off road (0.25 miles direct), 0.6 miles from the border, and 0.4 miles SW of the “BLM split” intersection. The location was within the first priority recommended search area from AFRCC. The only SAR team that was assigned to this area was OP2 Team 22 of off-road motorcycles, directed to cover all trails. The 2 state park rangers on Team 22 had reported the area was hot, rough, and rocky with difficult trails. For 5 hours they rode the entire perimeter and crisscrossed the area on technical OHV routes, visually searched all hillsides, and looked for tire friction marks.

Teams were instructed to return to base. Team 46 was created and composed of Daniel Vengler and 2 deputies to remain on site at the subject’s location, pending arrival of the ME. At 1325 a 10‑22 was issued.

Subject Found Location with the Team 22 Search Area

Subject Found Location within AFRCC-Recommended Search Area

Roberto “Bobby” Camou


Most of Search Areas

Lessons Learned/Suggestions for Future Operations:

  1. Searching for an off-road motorcyclist, highly mobile compared to someone traveling on foot, is an entirely different type of search, especially for an enormous size area such as this, estimated to be about 180 square miles.
  2. Various resources are available for cell phone ping data, including the Network Event Location System (NELOS) from ATT, the Air Force Rescue Coordinating Center (AFRCC)/CAP Cell Phone Forensics Team (CAPCPFT), and viewshed analyses constructed in SARTopo based on the individual receiving cell towers. Individual pings have a low degree of precision, such as within 1,000 to 5,000 meters. But aggregating a large number of pings can focus a search. The AFRCC recommended search areas are shown below. The subject found location was within the highest priority AFRCC area, in an area of the viewshed analysis covered by both cell towers, and about 1 mile from the NELOS 1 center.