Sheriff’s officials and volunteers conducted a second full-scale search this week for a Ramona man reported missing on March 23. Drones from RP Flight Systems joined sheriff’s search and rescue volunteers in an expanded search of the Lake Sutherland area, where the missing man’s car was found, but he was not located in what sheriff’s Lt. Duncan Fraser said is now a recovery operation.
William Kelly Buntain, 48, left his home March 22, telling his wife he was going to get some bottled water. His wife reported him missing the next morning. On March 27, hikers scouting for a turkey hunting area found his car in a remote area about two miles southeast of the Lake Sutherland boat launch, said Fraser with the sheriff’s Ramona Substation. An extensive search of the area occurred in the days following, with dogs, mounted patrol, ASTREA helicopters and divers participating.
Fraser, in charge of the sheriff’s command post at the Lake Sutherland boat launch on Wednesday, said Buntain’s eyeglasses were found on March 28 close to where his car was left, and socks also believed belonging to Buntain were found.
“The search has never stopped,” Fraser said.
Buntain is described as white, about 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighing about 300 pounds. He has gray hair and a full beard. An insulin-dependent diabetic, he takes several medications but left home without his medications and insulin and with no personal belongings, Fraser reported.
“We’ve been in daily contact with the family,” said Fraser. Buntain’s wife, Khadija, was at the command post with friends on Wednesday.
Officials do not suspect foul play and are not calling Buntain’s disappearance a suicide. No messages or notes were left at the scene, Fraser said, but Buntain had some emotional issues in addition to his medical issues. There is no evidence that an animal attacked Buntain, but that cannot be ruled out, Fraser said.
Buntain was agitated before he left home and at about noon on March 22 used an ATM card to purchase a premixed alcoholic beverage at a liquor store in Ramona, said Fraser. He was last seen at about 1 p.m. by a city of San Diego worker in the upper parking lot at Lake Sutherland.
The worker drove his vehicle alongside Buntain’s so they could talk through their driver windows.
“He was upset and crying and said his mother had passed away and it should have been him,” Fraser said Buntain told the worker.
The worker said he was sorry and explained that the lake was closed to the public and Buntain would have to leave. As Buntain drove his car toward the exit, the worker veered his vehicle toward the boat docks where he had work to do. When the city worker left, he did not see Buntain’s vehicle and assumed the Ramona man had left, so he closed and locked the gate, said Fraser.
In addition to the glasses and socks, searchers found the bottle of alcohol, with just a little bit of its contents left, that Buntain had purchased, said Fraser.