What a story!

On local TV news this week aired a segment about some bones found at Lake Oroville. It was a quick piece, showing Butte County Search and Rescue combing the shoreline, featuring an eyewitness interview.

Even if you caught the story, you don’t know the half of it.

Allow me to share my scoop that might have been and kinda still is.

Saturday afternoon (Feb. 16), I came into the office to work on the Business and Entrepreneur Issue. I got an e-mail from a woman we’d written about two years ago, whose boyfriend jumped off the Concow bridge and never resurfaced. She had another story and wanted to give us the opportunity to get it first.

I replied, figuring she’d write back Monday.

Ten minutes later, the phone rang. This couldn’t wait.

She related that ever since the lake level dropped, she’s searched around the bridge for clues (and closure). She doesn’t do so obsessively; just once in a while. This time she found something: bones, as well as pants, a wallet and other effects.

“Your boyfriend?” I asked.

No—the driver’s license in the wallet said Hugo Cabrera, whom she found out had jumped from the bridge five years earlier.

Then she asked what I thought she should do with the bones.

That’s right: The bones.

Stifling my surprise: “You took them with you?”


She’d already expressed apprehension about police (unrelated, I took it, to possible charges for disturbing a crime scene).

My reply: “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you have such strong loyalty to the paper that you want to give us a scoop. But we’re citizens and human beings first, and I would hate for anything to delay his family learning what happened to him.”

She agreed—of course; she knows their pain—and said she’d go to the Sheriff’s Office.

Tuesday, I checked with the sheriff, then the Coroner’s Office. The personal effects fit a missing person’s report from March 12, 2003, for Hugo Cabrera. His father, overtaken with emotion, positively ID’d the jeans and license.

Chief Deputy Coroner Dennis Cooley said he didn’t know if DNA testing would be ordered: “It’s the first time I’ve dealt with this circumstance.” That’s not too surprising—when people come across a body, “usually they leave it there and start running the other direction,” rather than take it home.

“It’s kind of odd,” he said.

Cooley would have liked to see the scene as discovered. Seeing how each piece was positioned “may have helped us figure out where to look further.” She drew a map, though, and the body surely shifted over five years.

So she isn’t in any trouble. She only knew the bones were human after checking the Internet. District Attorney Mike Ramsey said in that case, moving them wouldn’t be a crime.

Still, “we don’t encourage people to disturb scenes where there are bones,” Ramsey added. When the lake is this low, Indian burial grounds sometimes surface, and “we don’t want our Native American ancestors dug up.”

Call the authorities … even if you call me first.