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By Miriam Raftery

Photo by Bryan Hong via Wikipedia

Update June 26, 2018:  The deceased man has been identified as Manuel Lizarraga, who had been reported missing. His body was found four miles from his vehicle in a remote area of the park.

June 22, 2018 (Ocotillo Wells) – A 24-hour search for a man reported missing yesterday at 4:30 p.m. led to discovery of a male body at 5 p.m. today, four miles from the missing man’s vehicle.

A caller reported a man missing and presumably stuck in sand near Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area in San Diego County, between Borrego Springs and the Salton Sea. That prompted a search by park rangers and a Sheriff’s Astrea helicopter late yesterday.

The search was stopped overnight and resumed this morning, when the missing man’s vehicle was found in a remote area of the park.

The Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team was called in to assist in the search, due to the vast area and hot conditions.  After discovery of the body, the Sheriff’s rural enforcement team took over responsibility for the investigation.

The missing man’s name has not been release, pending confirmation by the Medical Examiner of the identity of the deceased man and cause of death.

The tragedy comes just days after former Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Superintendent Mark Jorgensen warned that “people will die” because of staffing cuts in that neighboring state park, where only four rangers remain, too few to patrol the 1,000-square foot park.  

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on June 17 that a year or two ago, there were eight to ten rangers, plus two supervising rangers and a superintendent. Today, the superintendent position has been eliminated, there are no supervisors, and only four remaining rangers. Jorgensen and others warn that by the time friends or relatives report someone missing in extreme heat, it’s likely too late to save them, which is why routine patrols are critical.

Kathy Dice, another retired superintendent in Anza-Borrego, has said she fears destruction of resources without adequate oversight by rangers, in addition to preventable loss of life.

While is it unclear whether Ocotillo Wells State Recreational Vehicle Area has had any staffing cuts that may have impacted manpower availability for this search, the tragedy drives home the importance of adequately staffing all state parks in desert terrain, since cutting staffing increases the potential for more tragic losses of life.

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