©St. Helena Star

Rescuers find autistic boy

By Jesse Duarte STAFF WRITER
Thursday, July 26, 2007 12:15 AM PDT

A 17-year-old autistic boy was found unharmed at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning 11 hours after being reported missing from his grandfather’s home at Stonebridge Apartments.

Police, fire and rescue units from throughout the North Bay mounted a massive all-night search Tuesday night. The boy was located near White Sulphur Springs Avenue.

The boy was reported missing at 6:45, about 45 minutes after he had last been seen at Stonebridge. A passerby reported seeing him walking the Sulphur Creek riverbed at 6:15, said St. Helena Police Sgt. Chris Hartley.

During Tuesday night’s city council meeting, City Manager Bert Johansson told television viewers to be on the lookout for a Hispanic boy with a yellow shirt and brown shorts. He instructed anyone who sighted the boy to contact the police department instead of approaching him and possibly frightening him.

As of 4 a.m., the police department had investigated about a dozen calls from residents claiming to have seen the boy, Hartley said. The calls seemed to indicate that he was traveling southwest along Sulphur Creek, sometimes running away from people who spotted him.

According to scanner reports, the boy initially tried to run away from the search party that found him near White Sulphur Springs Avenue. But he was safely apprehended just before 6 a.m.

"Right now we’ve got him wrapped up in blankets and we’re just looking for the search party that found him,” said Cpl. Ramon Jovel minutes after the boy had been found.

The boy was in good physical condition when he was found, said the fire department’s Gail Sharpsteen. As a precaution, he was transported to St. Helena Hospital with his mother at 7:30 a.m.

At any given time, between 50 and 130 people were participating in the search, including rescuers on all-terrain vehicles and four or five K-9 units, said Hartley, who headed the 11-hour search from a makeshift command center at the Napa Valley College upper valley campus.

Two helicopters, operated by the California Highway Patrol and Napa County Sheriff’s Department, patrolled the area from 7 p.m. to midnight.

Knowing that the boy was drawn to water, they concentrated their search on the Napa River and Sulphur Creek riverbeds.

The search parties were made up of members of the St. Helena police and fire departments, Napa County Sheriff’s Department, Napa Fire Department, Calistoga Police Department, and the Napa CHP, as well as search and rescue teams from Contra Costa, Sonoma and Marin counties and the California Cadet Academy.

Members of the St. Helena Police Department, Angwin Fire Department and Deer Park Police Department helped searched Deer Park and Angwin.

The last comparable mobilization in St. Helena was about three years ago when an elderly woman vanished and, like the Deer Park boy, turned up near White Sulphur Springs Avenue.

Sonoma Search and Rescuer Steve Ellis joined the search at 1 a.m., and was delighted to hear the mission had been successful.

“It always feels good to go home after you’ve found somebody,” Ellis said an hour after the boy was found.