After two intense examinations of the Lake Sutherland area where a missing Ramona man’s car was found last month, officials have exhausted their search unless there are new developments, Lt. Duncan Fraser with the sheriff’s Ramona Substation said on Monday.
William Kelly Buntain, 48, has been missing since the early afternoon of March 22, when he left his home, telling his wife he was going to get some bottled water. On March 27, hikers scouting for a turkey hunting area found his car stuck on the riverbed in a remote area about two miles southeast of the Lake Sutherland boat launch, and a full-scale search of the area by sheriff’s officials and volunteers followed for nearly a week.
Buntain, an insulin-dependent diabetic with other medical issues, left home without his insulin and other medication. His eyglasses were found on March 28 close to where his car was left, and socks also believed to be his were found.
Described as about 5 feet, 11 inches tall, Buntain weighs about 300 pounds and has gray hair and a full beard. He was agitated before he left home and on March 22 used an ATM card to buy a premixed alcoholic beverage at a liquor store in Ramona, said Fraser. He was last seen 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 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 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.
Searchers found the bottle of alcohol, with just a little bit of its contents left, that Buntain had purchased, said Fraser. The initial search was on land, from the air and in the water.
Last Wednesday, Fraser took charge of a second full-scale search of the area to no avail. Ramona residents were among search and rescue volunteers at the command post at Lake Sutherland and scouring the backcountry area on foot, on horseback and with dogs. They searched the original area and an expanded area in hopes of finding something to indicate what had happened. By then, it was a recovery operation.
Considering that Buntain needs to take one or two shots of insulin a day and had no insulin with him, plus he likely consumed alcohol and did not have his other medication, “we’re assuming within the first several hours he probably experienced a significant amount of distress,” said Fraser.
Because of his medical condition, Buntain has limited mobility, said Fraser. “That makes it more frustrating to us.”
If Buntain had died the day he left home, several days went by before the hunters spotted his car and wildlife in the area may have found him, said Fraser.
“I’m not saying he was attacked,” said Fraser. “There’s a large population of coyotes, we know there are some mountain lions in that area, there’s turkey buzzards...That’s problematic for us. We should be finding some sort of evidence and we’re not.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Don Parker coordinated the expanded search around the lake on Wednesday.
“We just keep coming up empty,” Fraser said. “We really want to find William.”
Former Ramona resident Mike Hennig, who lives in San Diego, joined the April 7 search as pilot/photographer with two drones from RP Flight Systems, which operates remotely piloted aircraft and takes photographs from the air. Because of its small size, a drone can reach areas such as steep cliffs that searchers may not be able to reach.
The search also included adjacent private property and outbuildings.
“We know he was confused. We know he had a lot of emotional problems,” said Fraser, noting that Buntain’s mother is not dead but lives in Apple Valley.
Fraser stays in regular contact with Buntain’s wife, Khadija.
Buntain’s disappearance leaves his wife financially unable to stay in the D Street home where they lived with her 9-year-old daughter, and friends are helping her arrange to move into an apartment in the Shadow Glen complex at 140 N. 14th St. Khadija Buntain plans to return to her part-time job in Ramona and she may start working there full time, said her friend, Marcia Hartness of Ramona.
But, said Hartness, Khadija needs money to relocate to the apartment and friends are thinking of having a fundraising yard sale. Anyone interested in donating financially or to the yard sale may contact Pat Brooks, the manager of Shadow Glen, at 760-789-8900.
Buntain was wearing a blue T-shirt and green camouflage pants when he left home. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to contact the sheriff’s department at 760-789-1200.