Possible human remains found in blocked drainpipe near Orange County freeway

Law enforcement officers in uniform and transportation workers in high-visibility vests around a drainpipe near a freeway.
CHP officers and Orange County sheriff’s deputies on Tuesday investigate the scene where a Caltrans robotic camera discovered debris thought to be human remains in a 26-inch pipe near the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Times Community News)

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is assisting Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol with an investigation into possible human remains discovered Monday inside a drainpipe near the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Steinle said deputies were contacted Monday by Caltrans, which had sent maintenance workers to the area to perform maintenance on a drainpipe just west of the freeway. The drainpipe runs eastward toward a connector pipe in the center median, near the Baker Street exit.

“During that maintenance, while they were surveilling one of the pipes, they found what they believed to be human remains,” Steinle said Tuesday, indicating a robotic camera system was used to peer inside the structure. “The remains were deep inside of this drainpipe.”


CHP Officer Anselmo Templado confirmed Tuesday the remains were located shortly before 10 a.m. on Monday in a 26-inch diameter pipe just west of the freeway, near the Baker Street onramp to the 55 South.

Authorities never found Kristin Smart’s body, an issue long considered a stumbling block in the case. She was declared legally dead in 2002.

Oct. 18, 2022

Caltrans workers had been using a camera to investigate what appeared to be a blockage when they made a grim discovery about 120 feet east of the pipe’s entry point, near the median of the freeway, Templado said.

“One of the things that caught the attention of the Caltrans operator operating the robot [camera] was that he first noticed a shoe,” he added. “He, upon closer inspection by the camera, saw there were other features that appeared to be human.”

CHP officers closed down the No. 1 southbound lane of the freeway to accommodate work crews, as Caltrans arranged Tuesday morning to begin flushing the system to try and expel the blockage. Initial efforts to push water through the infrastructure were stymied by a separate blockage, causing crews to use vacuum suction to remove the second clog so flushing could be initiated, Templado reported.

José Antonio Velásquez was the man identified by the coroner’s office. He was reported missing after disappearing under suspicious circumstances, authorities said.

Oct. 11, 2022

The Orange County coroner’s office has been called to the scene along with an anthropologist to determine whether the material, once it’s dislodged from the pipe, is human in nature.


Steinle said officials were standing by to retrieve the debris and determine next steps.