Police pushed 10 miles west of Modesto, to 4,000 acres of wetlands along the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers, in the search for Laci Peterson, the 27-year-old expectant mother who disappeared Christmas Eve.
The Modesto woman's family members remained hopeful Saturday. "We know we're going to bring her home alive and safe," said her mother, Sharon Grantski.
The main thrust of Saturday's search effort covered the territory where the Stanislaus and Tuolumne merge with the San Joaquin near the west end of Highway 132. The day before, boat and dive teams made their way down the Tuolumne River from Modesto to the San Joaquin. Ground teams talked with landowners along the way.
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Police said they doubt now whether Peterson went to East La Loma Park on Tuesday, despite witnesses who said they believed that they saw her there with her golden retriever.
The reward fund soared to $500,000, with receipt of $375,000 from an anonymous donor, said Kim Petersen, executive director of the Modesto-based Carole Sund Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation.
Police said they had found no connection between Peterson's disappearance and a burglary across the street from her Covena Avenue home. Investigators say they believe the burglary occurred between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday, the day Peterson disappeared.
Investigators said they continue to investigate the burglary for a possible link with the Peterson case, and Laci Peterson's brother Brent Rocha said Saturday, "I think that's our best lead."
Police started their search at East La Loma Park, after Peterson's husband, Scott, 30, reported that she was going there for a walk with the dog. The park is just a short distance from the couple's home in the La Loma neighborhood.
A neighbor found the dog, with leash attached, wandering in the neighborhood and put it in the Petersons' yard, not knowing that anything might be amiss. Family members said the dog did not behave in an unusual manner.
Police later expanded the search to parks that adjoin East La Loma Park along Dry Creek, and to Tuolumne River Regional Park to the south.
Thursday and Friday, divers swam or walked through Dry Creek between Claus Road and the La Loma bridge, just east of downtown Modesto. Also Friday, a helicopter crew checked the Tuolumne River from Fox Grove, near Hughson, to the San Joaquin River.
Dog's nose moves search
A bloodhound convinced investigators to broaden their search to the west.
Officers brought in the dog Thursday and let it loose in front of Peterson's house, thinking it might go to a dirt trail less than a block away that she used to go to Dry Creek.
Instead, the dog stayed on neighborhood streets, made its way to Yosemite Boulevard and headed west. Investigators took it from there, deciding to scour the Tuolumne River all the way to the San Joaquin.
On the wetlands, some 50 officers and volunteers worked on foot, while others worked on horseback, on quad runners and in a helicopter.
"We're looking for a needle in a haystack," said Sgt. Tim Helton, one of the equestrian officers.
In Modesto, bicycle patrols continued to look for clues in the vicinity of Peterson's home.
Today, the command center will be back at East La Loma Park, Sgt. Ron Cloward said. He said officers and volunteers would search back roads and alleys near the park.
Also, officers will return to the wetlands to look at three ponds, Cloward said.
Police said they have found no evidence of foul play. Officials said nearly 300 tips have come in, but none has provided anything solid to go on.
Evidence collected so far includes two computers and two vehicles from the Peterson home, and a boat from the Modesto warehouse that Scott Peterson uses in his work as an agricultural salesman.
Peterson told police that he left his home at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and took his aluminum boat to a marina in Berkeley, where he set out on a fishing trip on San Francisco Bay.
Investigators reported coming up empty Friday when they went to the marina. Officers said they found no one who could report seeing Peterson on Tuesday, nor did officers find any other clues.
Officers made a return visit Saturday, but it was not known what they might have found.
Police said they were still investigating receipts that Peterson turned over from his trip, one for launching his boat and one for gasoline in the Bay Area.
"What we're trying to do is eliminate Scott Peterson from being a suspect," Cloward said.
When asked if Scott Peterson was involved with Laci's disappearance, her brother Brent Rocha said: "No way. Absolutely not." He said the couple has a good relationship.
Rocha said his brother-in-law has been helping with the investigation and is desperate to find his wife. "He definitely is scared for Laci," Rocha said.
Scott Peterson has not spoken out about his wife, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, nor has he attended press conferences since Thursday.
"He can't talk to the media. He'll break down. He's too emotional to do that," Rocha said.
Peterson's family is wondering what else they can do to find her. They have a reward fund, fliers and posters are up all over town, and her picture is in the newspapers and on television.
"I think the helplessness is setting in," Rocha said. "What are you supposed to do right now? I don't know."Police ask anyone with information about Peterson's whereabouts to call a police hot line, 342-6166.
December 28, 2002
December 27, 2002
December 26, 2002