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Search for Officer Continues After Possible Sighting

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Los Angeles police officer, the subject of a massive search in eastern Ventura County, may have been seen jogging on a dirt road by a rancher near an abandoned airstrip in a remote area north of Simi Valley, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

An 80-member search party--including many police officers working off duty--combed the hills north of Moorpark on Wednesday for Sgt. Christopher Vasquez, 41, a 20-year veteran of the force who disappeared Monday.

The search for Vasquez was being headed by Ventura County sheriff’s deputies and centered on the hilly, undeveloped area behind the Moorpark townhouse he moved into recently.

Authorities said foul play was not suspected in the disappearance because Vasquez normally worked inside the station and had no involvement with sensitive investigations and little contact with the public.

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The searchers were working under the theory that Vasquez, an avid runner who often used the trails behind the townhouse, may have been hurt or lost. But they also acknowledged that Vasquez may have been depressed and suicidal because he had separated from his wife.

“It’s a possibility,” said Los Angeles Police Capt. Dan Watson, one of the missing man’s supervisors.

Watson said late Wednesday that authorities had interviewed a rancher who saw someone “who we believe is very possibly our officer.”

The unidentified rancher told authorities that he made the sighting between 2 and 3 p.m. Monday on a dirt road near an abandoned airstrip in Alamos Canyon, just north of Simi Valley and about 4 miles north of Moorpark.

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The canyon is outside the 25-square-mile area covered by searchers Wednesday.

“The person who sighted him was driving a truck,” Watson said. “He was driving directly into the sun and nearly hit the person jogging.”

Watson said the jogger was wearing lime green running shorts and a white tank top.

“They waved at each other and went on their way,” Watson said.

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Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Earl Matthews said a search team of about 15 people would sweep the Alamos Canyon area during the night. He said between 40 and 50 Ventura County sheriffs personnel and Los Angeles police officers would pick up the search beginning at 7 a.m. today.

Vasquez is an assistant watch commander on the evening shift at the North Hollywood station. About midnight Sunday, he finished his shift, stowed his service revolver in a locker and went home to his rented townhouse on Marquette Street.

He was due back at work at 3:30 p.m. Monday. When he didn’t show up for work and didn’t call in, his supervisors called his home and then sent officers to check on him when they received no answer.

“This is highly unusual,” Watson said. “Chris is very reliable. Not showing up for work is totally out of character.”

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Matthews said officers found Vasquez’s wallet and keys inside the townhouse. His late-model Porsche was parked in the garage, and his Acura Integra was parked by the curb next to the townhouse. Another handgun was found inside the townhouse, but authorities did not know if it belonged to him.

The deputies and police officers quickly centered their search on the rugged area behind the townhouse and the track at nearby Moorpark College.

“He’s known to jog daily and frequently up in these hills,” Matthews said. “We’re working on the premise that he went for a jog and is possibly injured.”

Matthews said the search operation began Tuesday and that Ventura sheriff’s search and rescue personnel and Los Angeles police officers had covered a 25-square-mile area.

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