By Leon Worden/SCVNEWS.com
An intense search in Leona Valley came to an end Friday when sheriff deputies found the body of a 51-year-old state prison guard in the California Aqueduct in Pearblossom, 30 miles to the south.
Although county coroner’s investigators have yet to determine the cause of death, sheriff officials believe it was an accidental drowning.
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The body of Thomas Hayes, a correctional officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was found Friday morning, two days after he was reported missing.
According to a sheriff’s statement, Hayes’ relatives told deputies he liked to walk the family dog on the path that runs along the aqueduct, and sometimes he had to enter the water to rescue the dog when it fell in.
On Wednesday it seems the tables were turned.
Hayes had driven his car from his home to the aqueduct, as usual. After a walk, the dog returned to the car, but the man did not.
Sheriff officials said passers-by found the dog sitting next to the car and called the phone number on its collar. One of Hayes’ relatives answered the phone, expressed concern and called the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station.
Emergency responders scoured the hills west of Palmdale and at one point discovered a set of size-14 footprints that could have belonged to Hayes.
Meanwhile, divers from the sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau combed the aqueduct. They didn’t find Hayes but did find two stolen cars and a gun.
Then Friday morning, Palmdale deputies found Hayes’ body in the aqueduct at a pumping station in Pearblossom, 30 miles south of where his car had been found.
Sheriff’s Homicide Lt. John Corina, who supervises missing-persons cases, said there was no evidence of foul play.
Sheriff officials noted that the “water currents of the aqueduct are much stronger than they look and present hazards for visitors.”