Father, Son Safe After Ill-Fated Outing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Burbank man and his 10-year-old son spent a chilly night stranded in a Jeep in a riverbed near Val Verde until Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies rescued them unharmed Monday morning.

William Hancock, 37, and his son, Michael, were sighted at 7:40 a.m. by a helicopter flying above the Santa Clara River in the area of Indian Dunes Park, Sgt. Michael Watner said. "They had gotten stuck in the mud there and decided to spend the night," he said.

Hancock managed to find a phone and left a message on a girlfriend's tape machine, but did not say where he and his son were stuck, Watner said.

Hancock picked up his son at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the house of his former wife in Val Verde, planning to take the boy off-road riding in the Jeep, Watner said. They spent about three hours driving along dirt roads in rugged areas of the Santa Clarita Valley before becoming stuck when Hancock tried to drive across the riverbed at a point that was filled with mud and water, Watner said.

Hancock told deputies the Jeep sank in mud and water up to the exhaust pipe and the engine stalled. He said he was unsuccessful in several attempts to rock the Jeep free of the mud or to use a jack to raise it sufficiently to start the engine.

About 4 p.m. Hancock left his son in the Jeep and hiked to a phone in a campground and called his girlfriend, leaving a message on her answering machine that he was stuck in a creek bed, Watner said. He returned to the Jeep.

"He said he would have to wait until the water level was lower," Watner said of the phone message. "However, he failed to say what creek bed, or what his location was."

Hancock's former wife, Marcelle Bragg, reported her son and Hancock missing Sunday night after she spoke to the girlfriend and learned of the message, deputies said. Deputies from stations throughout the northern county checked creek beds in areas known to be popular with off-road enthusiasts.

But the father and son were not found and spent the night in the Jeep, using a thermal blanket they had with them as temperatures dropped into the 40s, deputies said.

The Hancocks were not sighted until after daylight. A sheriff's helicopter airlifted them to the sheriff's station in the Santa Clarita Valley, where the boy was reunited with his mother.

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