Missing Modesto runner found alive in Placer County

03/31/2014 7:18 AM

04/01/2014 2:55 PM

UPDATE, 12:55 p.m. TUESDAY: According to the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, missing trail runner Robert Root has been found alive and is talking to rescuers.

“This is amazing,” Placer County Sheriff’s public information officer Dena Erwin said in an email. “We don’t usually get this great of an outcome!”

News of his rescue "is the best thing I’ve heard all year," said Chad Johnson, president of the Shadowchase Running Club, who's been in Foresthill since Root was reported missing on Sunday.

Johnson said he had tried to drive his car to the rescue command center earlier this morning, but had to turn back to town because several inches of snow had fallen this morning. The snowfall stopped about noon, he said, but rain was hitting the area.

"I’m literally across the street from the fire station, and I heard an ambulance pull out a little while ago. I’m guessing they’re going to pull him off the mountain soon. It's been incredibly snowy. It’s a blessing (he's been found alive)."

UPDATE, 6:45 a.m. Tuesday: According to a post on the ShadowChase Running Club Faebook page, inclement weather limited the overnight search for missing runner Robert Root. But more than 70 searchers will set out at dawn to continue looking for him.

Search and rescue workers continued to work around the clock to find a Modesto man who disappeared Sunday morning while on a training run in a remote, rugged area of Placer County, about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento.

Robert Root, 55, was running with seven other people along the Western States Trail near the tiny community of Michigan Bluff when he got separated from the others and disappeared, Placer County sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Borden said Monday afternoon.

Root, a member of the Modesto-based ShadowChase Running Club, is an avid runner and experienced trail runner.

“He loves those trails,” said Karen Lozano, co-director of the Modesto Marathon, who has trained with Root on the Western States Trail. “He knows those trails, which is why it’s so disconcerting that he’s missing.”

The Sheriff’s Department has been searching for Root since Sunday, when it was notified that he was missing. Borden said Root was dressed in running shorts and a light windbreaker and was not prepared for the cold overnight temperatures in the mountainous region of Placer County. It started to snow late Monday afternoon after a day punctuated by rain.

Hypothermia is a “huge concern,” Borden said.

Borden said Root and the seven others started their training run about 9:30 a.m. at the trailhead in Michigan Bluff, a small community at about 3,500 feet elevation, near Foresthill.

He said the runners separated into two groups, with one group running ahead of the other. Root was with the slower group. Borden said when that group stopped for a moment about 9:45 a.m., Root decided to run ahead to join the faster group.

Borden said that was the last time Root was seen.

Once they realized he was missing, the other runners searched for him along the rugged, steep trail before calling authorities about 3:30 p.m. Borden said the Sheriff’s Department used about three dozen searchers and a helicopter Sunday to look for Root. The search continued into the night with three teams of three people each lighting signal fires in an effort to attract Root.

More than 60 sheriff’s officials and search and rescue volunteers from Placer, El Dorado, Nevada and Sacramento counties and others scoured the trail for Root on Monday. They searched on foot, horseback, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. Searchers also used four dogs. Two helicopters searched Monday morning until they were grounded by the weather.

Borden said four members of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team were expected to search through Monday night for Root before dozens of other search and rescue workers resumed their efforts today.

About a dozen ShadowChase club members and other friends drove to Foresthill on Monday to show their support. Monday evening, about 100 people gathered at ShadowChase’s downtown Modesto office for a candlelight vigil.

“You just think it won’t ever happen to someone you know,” Jamie Loftis, who knows Root through ShadowChase, said at the vigil. “But if it happened to anyone, he will have the strength to pull through. He is a quiet, shy guy, but a bear inside. He is someone you look up to for his stamina and strength. If there is a race, he is in it.”

Mike Mason of Modesto, a member of the ShadowChase board of directors, described Root as a wonderful family man and fun person to be around. The two men trained for and ran the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run in April 2012; both finished in a little more than 12 hours.

“He loves the trail runs,” Mason said. “We use to go out every weekend to do back-to-back long runs ... a 20-miler one day and a 22-miler the next.”

Mason spoke at Monday evening’s vigil, saying he was encouraged by the turnout and support at the quickly called event. “It shows how much the running community can unite together for a single cause, and that is to bring Robert Root home safely.”

Kevin Roach, pastor at First Congregational Church of Salida, led the vigil crowd in a prayer. He knows Root from ShadowChase and said Root had encouraged him during the Modesto Marathon two weekends ago. “He was really thoughtful of other people. He helped and encouraged them as runners. When he came up alongside me in the marathon, he had a few encouraging words for me. And then he ran through along on his way.”

Loftis said Root was running Sunday with Dusty Bottoms, a trail-running club formed about seven months ago as an offshoot of ShadowChase. Root was on a training run for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, according to the ShadowChase Facebook page. The June race begins in Squaw Valley and ends in Auburn.

Root and Dr. Danielle Myers were honored by the American Red Cross for helping another runner during the Modesto Midnight Half Marathon in 2010. The two were running in the race when they came upon an unconscious runner; they helped him until paramedics arrived.

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