Diving robot finds body-shaped object in lake where man went missing, Calif. cops say

An underwater robot deployed on Wednesday may have found the body of a Northern California man who went missing on a fishing trip with his father, deputies said — and now a highly-trained dive team will have to determine if the newly-discovered object is really a body.

A month ago, the dead body of the father, 62-year-old Carlson Soto of Laytonville, was found floating in Lake Mendocino by a passerby who noticed an empty, unmanned boat. But Vincent Soto, the elder Soto’s 40-year-old son and fishing companion, was nowhere to be found. There were so signs of foul play in the death and disappearance, authorities said last month.

After a month-long search failed to turn up any trace of the younger Soto, the Sonoma County Water Agency announced this week that officials would start ramping down the amount of water released from the lake through the Coyote Valley Dam so the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department could go into the waters near the lake’s outlet and look for the missing man’s body. The agency said the Sheriff’s Department had already tried divers and sonar with no success.

With the help of a diving robot from the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, on Wednesday a dive team was “able to find a point of interest for the possible location of Mr. Soto, which we hope will bring closure to the family and friends in the near future,” Marin authorities said in a Facebook post.

We feel we finally have some light to this darkness,” said Theresa Rodriguez, Soto’s cousin, according to the Mendocino Voice. “I know for myself for the first time in 29 days as of yesterday I got to go home without the heaviness in my heart.”

Mendocino authorities said the object was near the lake outlet at a depth of about 100 feet.

“We couldn’t get close enough in a steady manner to see what it was. It’s basically a human shape, but it could be a log,” Mendocino Sheriff’s Lieutenant Shannon Barney said, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department divers are expected to help recover what could be the body, the Mendocino Voice reports, adding that “to accomplish this upcoming dive, the flow of Lake Mendocino into the Russian River may actually be stopped for a brief period, a relatively unprecedented event.” Slowing the water current is necessary because “otherwise the divers might be swept into the dam outlet,” the Voice reported.

Their team can dive to a depth of 200 feet,” Barney said of the Los Angeles divers, according to KTVU. “And our request will be that the dam go to a zero flow for a short time, a few hours, so we can get in and get it done.”

Mendocino deputies said “our dive teams are not equipped to work in that depth.”

Daniel Garcia, a brother of Vincent Soto, told KTVU that “it really is a blessing to see all these agencies work together to find my brother and bring my family some closure.”

After Carlos Soto’s body was found in early June, a phone and ID were discovered in a wallet in the boat — all of it belonging to Vincent Soto, also of Laytonville, deputies said. The family’s vehicle and their boat trailer were found at the lake’s north boat ramp.

After contacting their family, deputies said they learned the pair had planned a daylong fishing trip on the lake and should have been together. A missing person investigation was launched in the son’s disappearance, but the initial search of the lake didn’t turn up any sign of him, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“They were inseparable, they worked together, they were best friends,” Garcia said, according to KTVU.

Some material in this story appeared in a previous story by the author

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.