Dispatch logs detail Alpine search
December 14, 2012
Dispatch logs released by Douglas County 911 Emergency Services give a clearer picture of the timeline involving the search and subsequent discovery of a Gardnerville woman who spent six nights in the Sierra in an ordeal that resulted in the death of her boyfriend.Paula Lane, 46, appeared in an exclusive on the Today Show in person this morning to tell her story to a national audience.Lane and her boyfriend Roderick Clifton, 44, were trapped in the mud on Nov. 29 at Burnside Lake in Alpine County, after Clifton decided to try out the four-wheel drive on a recently acquired 1989 Jeep. He drove the Jeep past a locked gate on Burnside Lake Road and the vehicle became mired at the lake.Clifton died about a mile from where the Jeep was stuck after he tried to make the seven-mile hike back down to Highway 88 on Nov. 30, nearly two hours before authorities were alerted the couple was missing.Alpine County Undersheriff Rob Levy said Clifton’s death is still under investigation. He said there’s no indication of foul play, but that the cause of death is pending autopsy and toxicology. He did say he didn’t feel Clifton was properly dressed to be in the mountains in a storm.Lane spent three nights alone in the vehicle before she decided to try to make her way to safety. The 5-foot, 4-inch woman attempted to blaze trail through up to 3 feet of snow, spending two nights in the wilderness until her brother commandeered a Caltrans frontloader and drove up the road to find her on Dec. 5.Douglas dispatchers received a tip that the couple might be at Burnside Lake 10:57 p.m. Nov. 30 and asked Alpine County to check that area. Slightly longer than an hour later, at 12:16 a.m. Dec. 1, a relative followed up to report that the couple had visited Burnside Lake over the summer and they might be there.About two minutes later, a reply came in that Burnside Lake was closed and the road was covered in snow. Searchers also reported that Crystal Springs and Woodfords were clear.At the time, authorities didn’t know where in the 100-mile route from Citrus Heights to Gardnerville the couple was missing.At least one Alpine County resident has expressed concern that enough wasn’t done to try and find the couple after authorities received information they might be on Burnside Lake Road.Nate Gillies said he took photos this past weekend of what he believes are tire tracks of the couple’s Jeep, still visible more than a week after the fateful trip.“I’m shocked that no one saw the tracks,” he said. He said the Jeep’s trail goes out into the forest and comes back on the other side of the gate.Gilles pointed out that a report of a mother and son who were missing at Kirkwood drew an enormous search.“As an Alpine County resident, I’d like to know who gets a tip like this and doesn’t call search and rescue?” he said. “How come our search and rescue people who want to go didn’t get the chance to do what they do?”Gilles agreed that Clifton made several serious mistakes in going around the gate just before a storm arrived.“But when the Jeep got stuck at Burnside Lake, that was an accident,” he said. “If there was a tip and no one followed up, then it was negligence.”Levy pointed out that to get around the gate required Clifton to drive out into the forest, since there is a ditch along one side.“I can confirm the deputy did check the gate,” he said. “It was closed and locked and the road was covered with snow. It was storming at the time.”Levy said he questions whether the tracks visible now are those of the Jeep.He said that the Jeep is in the county yard after being towed from the scene by a snowcat. The Jeep was out of gasoline.Finding someone in Alpine County is a difficult enough prospect when authorities know where they were last seen.“It’s really tough,” he said. “We had a gal who was at risk for suicide who we knew was in the county. The search for her went days, even weeks before we found her car over the bank on Airport Road. You could see Indian Creek from the car, but you couldn’t see the car from there.”He pointed out that Alpine authorities looked from the Nevada state line to Amador County in an effort to locate the couple, checking gates and snow parks along the way.“It’s an arduous task,” he said. “If there’s any message I’d love to get across from this it’s that if people are going to go off the beaten path, they should call and let people know. They could have pulled in at Sorensen’s and made a phone call.”He also suggested that motorists prepare for a trip through the mountains, no matter what season.“When people are traveling through the mountains, they need to pack for the drive to stay alive,” he said.
Nov. 292:45 p.m. — Couple leaves Citrus Heights en route to Gardnerville4:15-4:45 p.m.* — Couple arrives at Picketts Junction. Roderick Clifton decides to drive up Burnside Lake Road instead of driving the 22 miles to Minden. At some point the 1989 Jeep they’re driving “sinks into the mud.”Midnight — Snow depth at Burnside Lake is 15 inches. Temperature is 35 degrees.Nov. 309:09 a.m. — Roderick Clifton leaves the Jeep to walk out for help, never to be seen alive again.11:04 a.m. — Douglas received first call from CHP on blue Jeep Cherokee.12:17 p.m. Alpine County assigned to call.Authorities check along Highway 88, 89. In Douglas, deputies look along Kingsbury Grade and Highway 88 south of Minden.10:57 p.m. — Douglas dispatch received information from grandson that the missing couple may be at 88 and 89 by the little lake in the back at the campground, unknown name. Asking Alpine County to check that area. Asking for a call back when they check.Midnight — 12 inches of snow at Burnside Lake. Temperature 34.2 degrees.Dec. 112:16 a.m. — Relative reports that they are not camping, but went there during the summer, so she thinks they might be there if they got stuck. This would be Burnside Lake12:18 a.m. — Alpine reports Burnside Lake Road is closed and covered in snow. Unable to locate at Picketts Junction and Sorensen Resort.12:22 a.m. — Unable to locate Crystal Springs and Woodfords Junction the road is clear and it has been passable since 4:30 p.m.6:30 a.m. — Subjects have not shown up yet.2:57 p.m. — Missing person’s report filed.5:54 p.m. — Citrus Heights sends out bulletin on subjects.6:45 p.m. — Citrus Heights requests officers check rivers, embankments, campgrounds. They think it is an unreported accident.10:14 p.m. — Alpine reports extensive search by vehicle and some foot from Kirkwood to Blue Lakes on Carson Pass, Picketts, all of Highway 88 and all the way down to state line.Midnight — 42 inches of snow at Burnside Lake. Temperature 33.4 degrees.Dec. 2Lane survives on tomatoes and snow melt.Midnight — 39 inches of snow at Burnside Lake. Temperature 36.1 degrees.Dec. 3-4Lane decides to try and make her way down Burnside Lake Road. Midnight — 36 inches of snow, temperature 32.4 degrees.Dec. 57:46 p.m. — Report of accident at Picketts Junction, perhaps involving a frontloader.7:48 p.m. — Roderick Clifton’s death becomes known.8:20 p.m. — Alpine Search & Rescue activated8:32 p.m. — Report that woman’s brother found her, and took her to Sorensen’s in the frontloader.* Estimate based on trip time.