By Shannon Rapose
Kern Valley Sun
No one would’ve believed that April 29, 2017, would be the last time anyone would hear Lisa Harvey’s infectious laugh or see her beautifully bright smile.
Seven months ago, 51-year-old Harvey left a friend’s home in Ventura, Calif., in her 2000 Toyota Solara to make the nearly three hour trip to her cousin’s house in Bodfish in order to get away for a couple days.
At one point, Harvey had missed her exit for Bakersfield and called her cousin in Ridgecrest for directions. While on the phone with her, Harvey’s cousin stated he heard someone in the background say, “You are in Tulare.”
Just before midnight, Harvey called her friend in Ventura to check in and to say she had missed her exit and was turning around and would call when she arrived.
Harvey would never reach her destination.
The next day, on April 30, when her family found out Harvey hadn’t arrived at her cousin’s home, they felt immediately that something was wrong.
They drove up and down Highway 178, searching every road that led in and out of the Kern River Valley and walked the banks of the roaring Kern River, which was higher than it had been in 20 years. Even a friend of a family member offered the use of his plane to aid in the search, flying all around the area for several hours in hopes of seeing something, anything. Sadly, they would come up empty handed.
According to Harvey’s sister Debra Duey-Valcho, when the Kern County Sheriff’s Office was finally able to get a hold of Harvey’s phone records, they told the family that her phone had pinged in the Palmdale and Lancaster area. Even though they were skeptical at the idea that Harvey had driven out that direction, her family, as well as friends and a good size group of volunteers, headed out to search the area.
There was even a clerk at an ARCO gas station in Palmdale that stated Harvey had stopped there for gas and asked for directions to Lake Isabella. However, the clerk also stated that he had misunderstood her and instead gave Harvey directions to Lake Elizabeth, just outside of Los Angeles. Once again, the search moved through the area, and once again found no trace of Harvey.
About two weeks after Harvey’s disappearance, the family received a call from a Detective in Ventura stating that he had run through Harvey’s phone records again and that her phone had actually pinged in Tulare and not Palmdale/Lancaster after all.
“I can’t tell you how devastating it was to know we had wasted all that time searching Palmdale and Lancaster,” said Duey-Valcho.
Trying not to get discouraged, the search continued, following every possible lead. At one point, the family even sought the help of psychics in hopes they would be led in the right direction.
In November, Harvey’s family was informed that the level of the Kern River had come down significantly, so, again, they set up a search on Veteran’s Day weekend to walk along its shores and in the surrounding area. Sadly, there was still no sign of Harvey.
Then, on November 30, a hiker was walking along the river in the Kern River Canyon portion of Highway 178 when they came across Harvey’s ID and some other personal belongings. They promptly contacted the authorities. When deputies responded, they found a partially submerged vehicle in the river near mile marker 23.
Kern County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue was called out to the scene, but due to impending darkness and the extreme terrain, recovering the vehicle or a search for Harvey was deemed unsafe for personnel at that time. Search and Rescue returned the next morning to further assess the situation and determined that heavy equipment and a substantial amount of manpower would be required to safely extract the vehicle from its location in the river.
On Saturday, Dec. 2, Kern County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, with the assistance of CalTrans and CHP, were able to extract what was left of Harvey’s Toyota Solara from the freezing water of the Kern River, with a deceased occupant still buckled in the front driver seat.
The search had finally come to an end. Not the end anyone had hoped for, but an end none the less.
“I had seven months to think about her and there was always hope there, now we know,” said Duey-Valcho. “There is no hope left, just pain and grief.”
As of press time, the identity of the deceased occupant in Harvey’s vehicle had not yet been confirmed by the Kern County Coroner’s Office.
Coincidentally, Harvey’s vehicle was not the only one recovered over the weekend.
On Sunday, Dec. 3, Search and Rescue was called to the area again to assist in the recovery of a Chevrolet Corvette that was found at mile marker 22.5 on highway 178. Officials said no one was inside, but it had been reported stolen and was severely burned. An unoccupied 1983 Toyota Tercel was also found in the river about a mile and a half upstream from Harvey’s vehicle. It appeared to have been striped and then dumped in the river. Officials reported that a quad bike was also recovered downstream near mile marker 24.
“What concerns me, a little bit, is what else is in here that we don’t know about,” said Search and Rescue Sgt. Zac Bittle.