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A river, a motorcycle and concern over a writer’s disappearance during a test ride

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Davey Johnson with his girlfriend Jaclyn Trop.
(Jaclyn Trop)

A search for a well-known automotive writer has focused on a river in Calaveras County, with evidence pointing to the journalist having taken a dip in the potentially fast-moving stream.

Davey Johnson, 43, was test riding a motorcycle for a magazine assignment and returning home to Sacramento when he disappeared June 5. Ground search teams, a helicopter, drones, boats and scent-tracking dogs soon joined the search, according to the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office.

Johnson’s motorcycle was found parked at the Big Bar Launch recreation rest area along the Mokelumne River off Highway 49. The key was in the ignition of the motorcycle and Johnson’s helmet and gloves sat on its seat.

On Saturday, a tracking dog suggested Johnson had gone toward the river. This time of the year, the river can be fast-moving and cold as the Sierra snowpack melts and flows into streams.

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The next day, ground crews found more of Johnson’s clothes in a small feeder stream near other belongings, sheriff’s officials said. Authorities determined the writer had taken a photograph of himself there and sent it to a friend.

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Authorities believe Davey Johnson took this photograph of himself by the Mokelumne River before going missing. On Sunday, search teams found some of his clothing in the same spot.
(Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office)

“With all evidence pointing towards Mr. Johnson having gone into the Mokelumne River for unknown reasons and with no evidence of foul play, search efforts have continued in the subsequent days along the river’s edge,” the sheriff’s office said.

As of Wednesday morning, officials are treating the case as an active search, not a body recovery, said Deputy Anthony Eberhardt, a spokesman for the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office.

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Johnson’s assignment was to ride a Honda motorcycle for a week in Los Angeles and then write about it for Motorcyclist. But he took a detour on the way home, riding to Las Vegas and then into the cold Sierra to the dangerous Sonora Pass, according to Motorcyclist editor and Johnson’s friend, Chris Cantle.

Friends and colleagues say the route he decided to take was characteristic of Johnson — an impromptu adventure that veered from the straightforward test ride he was assigned. Now, they’re hoping for news that he’s simply off on another adventure.

“He was in his element,” Cantle said. “The thing that makes me adore the guy made him go missing. That’s hard to reconcile.”

Johnson has worked in the automotive journalism industry for more than 15 years and had been recently freelancing for publications including Motorcyclist, Car and Driver, and Autoweek.

“He’ll season boring car reviews with punk rock references, making a game of needling editors by ever-raising their saturation until you’re left wondering what in the hell you’ve just been fed,” wrote Cantle in a recent Motorcyclist article about Johnson.

Mark Vaughn, a writer for Autoweek, said Johnson was fearless. When colleagues were meeting in the Mojave Desert, he woke up in the early morning to make the five-hour motorcycle ride through the desert.

Vaughn said friends hope Johnson is actually “holed up in a motel, writing the next great American novel” and returns home safely.

Johnson had recently proposed to his girlfriend Jaclyn Trop, and the couple planned to make their engagement official with a trip to England next week.

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“I’m feeling sick to my stomach and confused,” Trop said. “Davey was just magic. He completely swept me off my feet. I hope that he turns up alive.”

Anyone with information about Johnson’s whereabouts can call the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office at (209) 754-6500.

alejandra.reyesvelarde@latimes.com

Twitter: @r_valejandra


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