Scores of volunteers and sworn law enforcement officers have been looking for a former Sonora High wrestling coach and Tuolumne County resident since last week, when his unoccupied car was found washed more than a mile downstream from where Piney Creek blew out Highway 132 in Mariposa County.
More than 70 searchers have looked for John Honesto, 67, of Don Pedro, and for Carol Brown, 72, of Catheys Valley, since that warm, wet tropical storm unleashed so much rain, runoff and snowmelt into the Mother Lode foothills last week. They were both reported missing Thursday.
Honesto and Brown remained missing as of 5 p.m. Monday, Kristie Mitchell, a civilian public information officer with Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, said in a phone interview.
“As of this evening we’re scaling back search operations,” Mitchell said. “We are sending the majority of the searchers from allied agencies home.”
Large-scale search operations have continued day and night since Honesto and Brown were reported missing, Mitchell said.
“Unfortunately due to the force of this storm we do presume both deceased,” Mitchell said Monday in a statement.
Mitchell said search efforts since last week have included ground searchers, search dogs, swift water teams, boating rescue, airborne drones and helicopter crews.
The Mariposa County Emergency Operations Center has coordinated the local Sheriff’s Office with deputies from a dozen other agencies, including Tuolumne County Sheriff, Madera County Sheriff, Kern County Sheriff, Fresno County Sheriff, Merced County Sheriff, Stanislaus County Sheriff, Calaveras County Sheriff, the California Highway Patrol and H40 Helicopter, California Rescue Dog Association rescue and cadaver dogs, California Office of Emergency Services, Cal Fire and the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office.
Honesto’s daughter, Nathalie Honesto, 26, of Sacramento, said Monday morning she is thankful for all the people who have looked for her father.
“We are still searching,” Nathalie Honesto said. “There were a lot of search and rescue teams. We saw five different counties yesterday, in the riverbed area, Tuolumne, Stanislaus, Mariposa, Calaveras and Merced.”
Piney Creek takes multiple bends and travels several miles from Highway 132 before it empties into Lake McClure. A Merced Irrigation District worker at Barrett Cove said search-and-rescue personnel had been at the reservoir earlier Monday. They were gone before 4 p.m.
“They came and talked to us about 3 p.m. when they stopped for the day,” Nathalie Honesto said Monday afternoon. “They’ve been so amazing and informative and helpful. They come talk to us at least once a day.”
Her father was driving her mother’s car, a 2015 black Toyota Avalon, before he went missing, Nathalie Honesto said. She said her parents’ home is physically in Tuolumne County, with a Stanislaus County mailing address.
Nathalie Honesto has been updating friends and family and loved ones on social media. Sunday night she posted, “We've been so grateful for the outpouring of love from friends and our community. We are so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderfully caring people. We thank you for the prayers and continue to keep hope as we continue to search.”
Brown went missing about 5 p.m. March 22 from her place in Catheys Valley, south of Mariposa and about 55 miles south of Sonora. She was checking on horses due to heavy rain and flooding. She didn’t come back and 30 minutes later her husband started looking for her. Mitchell said he found a “side by side utility vehicle” Brown had been driving laying on its side in an unnamed creek that resembled a river.
Mitchell said the unnamed creek flows to Bear Creek, and then to Bear Creek Reservoir about 10 miles downstream toward Merced County. The seasonal creek normally runs 3 feet to 4 feet wide and 1 foot deep at most, but last week peak flows pushed the unnamed creek to 150 feet wide and 10 feet deep at flood stage.
“This fast moving water was riddled with twisted and broken debris and would have been impossible for a person to navigate,” Mitchell said Monday. “The debris field in the search area is extensive in size. Searchers guided by CHP H40 did locate what we believe is to her jacket she was wearing at time. We have not been able to locate anything else at this time.”
Honesto was reported missing at 10 p.m. March 22 by his wife when he did not return home from his substitute teaching job at Coulterville / Greeley Hill School, Mitchell said. His normal route home would take him down Highway 132 where the Piney Creek washout occurred.
“It appears through investigation that John crossed the flooded / washed out section of Highway 132 at the Piney Creek culvert,” Mitchell said.
At 10:45 a.m. Friday, Mariposa County deputies searching for Honesto found the destroyed Toyota Avalon more than one mile downstream from the Highway 132 washout. No sign of Honesto have been located.
Honesto is beloved by students at Coulterville / Greeley Hill School, Mitchell said.
Mariposa Sheriff’s personnel are trying to be respectful of both families and they hope they can recover the victims’ remains soon, Mitchell said.
Both Brown and Honesto will continue to be listed as missing, and they have both been entered into the state Department of Justice Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Mitchell, speaking for Mariposa County government agencies, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, and residents of communities in Mariposa County, extended sincere condolences to both families.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.