Missing man is found safe

June 30, 2003 11:00 pm

By AMY LINDBLOM

A mentally handicapped Salida man, lost over the weekend in Stanislaus National Forest, was found safe last night about five miles from Cascade Creek Campground where his family last saw him Saturday morning.

Manuel Santiago, 41, was spotted by campers at Hells Half-Acre Campground by a father and his two sons on a fishing-camping trip. The trio had no idea Santiago was the subject of a massive search; they just thought he seemed disoriented and needed help, said Jim Scruggs, a Tuolumne County Sheriff's deputy and the head of Tuolumne County Search and Rescue.

The man and his two sons had seen Santiago on two other occasions Sunday and yesterday, and both times he refused food and water, then wandered off again.

Yesterday evening, when the father and his sons returned from fishing up a creek from their campground, they saw the man for the third time.

This time however, after Santiago left, the father drove out of the campground to call the sheriff's department, Scruggs said.

Scruggs, in a ravine on the other side of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River, heard about the call, thought it might be about the missing man and quickly got searchers in the area.

Scruggs said he found Santiago about 8:30 last night, curled up in some leaves next to a tree, about a quarter mile from where the father and sons had been camping.

"I asked him if he was Manny," Scruggs said. "Then I asked him if he wanted to go home."

Santiago was brought back to his parents, who were waiting at Cascade Creek Campground at the search command post.

"He was hungry and tired, but otherwise OK," Scruggs said.

Santiago told his parents he got lost when he decided to surprise them by walking around a small mountain near the campground, Saturday morning. But he wandered too far and got lost. During the three days, Santiago had nothing to eat, but drank water from a creek.

Santiago's mother described her son as having the mental capacity of a 6- to 10-year-old boy.