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Search underway in El Dorado County for missing Berkeley student

06/10/2014 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 11:59 AM

An all-out search was underway Monday for a University of California, Berkeley, student who went missing after staying at his family’s Ice House area cabin.

Vernon “Cody” Matthews, 23, a senior majoring in anthropology, was dropped off at his family cabin on Wednesday in the Eldorado National Forest. His mother spoke with him by telephone on Friday before he was to leave for a hike alone.

He has not been heard from since.

“This is not him to not come back,” said his father, Vern Matthews, 57, from the cabin Monday. “There’s a possibility that he hiked too far and was not able to get back, but camping overnight would be nothing for him.”

The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office received a call Saturday evening from Matthews’ parents, who told deputies that they were concerned. Deputies went to the family’s cabin where Cody had been staying by himself.

He had no vehicle, and his personal belongings were still in the cabin, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release. Authorities described Matthews as a 6-foot-3-inch man with shoulder-length blond hair and a red beard. His cellphone had not been used since Friday.

“We have no idea what’s happened to him,” said Lt. Tim Becker with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. “There’s nothing to indicate foul play at this point.”

Search and rescue teams from Placer, Nevada, Sacramento and Douglas, Nev., counties were assisting El Dorado with the search on Monday. Dog-tracking teams, mounted searchers, off-road vehicles and hiking personnel joined in the search.

The U.S. Forest Service had patrol units involved, and a California Highway Patrol aircraft was searching from above.

Becker said the weather shouldn’t be a challenge, as it has been clear, but that the search is being conducted on pretty steep terrain.

“General exposure can be an issue, depending on how well people are prepared,” he said. “Cody is a pretty avid hiker, and he should be familiar with the area.”

The saga started June 2, when Cody borrowed a car from a relative and moved all his belongings from a one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley to the family’s Ice House cabin for the summer.

“When he got (to the cabin), the place had been burglarized,” his father said. “He talked to us on Monday and told us that the place was ransacked. He told us that the door had been broken in.”

Still, Cody was undeterred, and moved his belongings into the cabin, and returned the car to the relative the same day.

Cody asked the same relative to drop him off at the cabin on Wednesday. The family last heard from him on Friday, around 3 p.m., when he called his mother, Cyndi Matthews, 55, to find a compass he wanted to take on a hike.

“He can be very absent-minded,” she said, adding that he later found his compass in his pocket. During the conversation, she asked him what he was taking, and he told her that he would have trail mix, some water and a hunting knife.

“I suggested that he take an emergency blanket, and suggested a couple of places to go, but to get back by dark,” recalled his mother. “He was to call me when he got home.”

Cody didn’t call that night, although a signal was detected from his cellphone around 6:30 p.m. on Friday, south of the cabin near the south fork of the American River, according to his father.

“Sometimes he changes his plans, and he’s plenty capable of surviving a couple of days,” said Vern Matthews, a paramedic.

“If he decided it was safer to camp out than to come back, it would be normal.”

But his parents got worried when he didn’t call Saturday, and there was no indication that he had posted any updates on social media.

Vern Matthews had initially planned to go to the cabin Tuesday, and Cyndi Matthews was to follow a week later. But they decided to head up Saturday night instead.

It was not known if Cody was wearing pants or shorts, but it was likely he was wearing Vibram Five Fingers shoes. “They’re the kind of shoes that have the toes in them, and leave distinctive footprints,” said his mother.

Cody is the youngest of five children and the most active outdoors. “He spent a lot of time in the wilderness and the river with us,” said his father. “He liked to push his limits.”

Monday, his parents were encouraged by reports that signs of recent campfires had been found in a 2-mile area south of the cabin. Vern Matthews said he can’t know for sure that the campfires were built by Cody.

“It gives me hope that he would be found, but now we’re just playing the waiting game,” he said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the El Dorado County sheriff’s dispatch center at (530) 621-6600.

Sacto 911 Staff

Bill Lindelof
blindelof@sacbee.com
@Lindelofnews

Cathy Locke
clocke@sacbee.com

Andy Furillo
Superior Court
afurillo@sacbee.com
@andyfurillo

Denny Walsh
Federal Court
dwalsh@sacbee.com

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