LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man found dead in a van buried under several feet of mud at the scene of last week’s flash flood was a 49-year-old Palmdale resident, Los Angeles County authorities said Wednesday.
Robert Michael Rasmussen was discovered Tuesday by crews digging in a catch basin along a road in Palmdale northeast of Los Angeles, according to Ed Winter of the coroner’s office. An autopsy was pending to determine the cause of death, he said.
Rasmussen was found inside a car that apparently was swept into the culvert and buried under about 6 feet of mud during a powerful Oct. 15 thunderstorm, authorities said.
“It must have happened so quick that he couldn’t do anything because they said that he still had his seat belt on,” Virginia Driscoll, Rasmussen’s mother, told KABC-TV.
Her son was house-sitting for her last week while she was visiting Israel and was only two blocks away from her home when he was killed, Driscoll said.
It could be the first death related to the storm, which sent a wave of water sluicing through the Antelope Valley roadway and foothill areas of the Tehachapi Mountains farther north.
Stacey Horwood, who lives nearby, told media outlets she called 911 during the deluge after seeing a van being swept away. Authorities came out to look for the van but it was not found. It was discovered after Horwood and others pressured officials to keep looking.
James Purtee, the city manager of Palmdale, said nobody was reported missing during the storm.
“Obviously if we had known there was a missing person, this would have been an absolute top priority for public works, fire and sheriff’s,” he said during a press conference.
Meanwhile, efforts to find a 67-year-old man swept away during flooding in those foothill areas were suspended because deep, wet mud in the area made the search too dangerous.
Much of the half-mile-long search area was covered in up to 6 feet of muck and debris, according to Kern County sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt.
Officials hoped to resume the search later for Richard Harvell, who was hit by mud and water as he tried to climb into his truck.
The search area is south of State Route 58 in Tehachapi, where massive debris flows trapped more than 100 cars, buses, RVs and big-rig trucks.
The route 80 miles north of downtown Los Angeles reopened at 8 p.m. Wednesday after a small army of dump trucks, bulldozers and other equipment hauled away 75,000 cubic yards of mud, according to the California Department of Transportation.