Northern California river search involves same type of SUV driven by missing Santa Clarita Valley family


Authorities in Northern California are searching a river for a maroon SUV that matches the description of the vehicle driven by a missing Santa Clarita Valley family.

California Highway Patrol officers responded Friday about 1 p.m. to reports of a vehicle falling off the side of a steep embankment on the 101 Freeway just north of Leggett, a small community in Mendocino County, said a spokesperson for the agency.

Officer William Wunderlich said debris found at the scene could indicate some sort of impact. Small plastic pieces believed to be from the vehicle were recovered. Witness statements led the officers to believe the vehicle was a newer model Honda Pilot.


Multiple agencies in the area are collaborating on the search but efforts have been hampered by heavy rainfall, Wunderlich said. Over the weekend, the river was deemed unsafe for dive crews.

“It was raining pretty heavily on Friday, which caused the river to swell. The current was moving quickly and the clarity was bad due to mud and debris,” he said.

The Thottapillys, a family of four from Valencia, had reportedly been driving a maroon 2016 Honda Pilot with the California license plate 7MMX138 as they traveled to Portland. They were expected to stop at a family member’s home in San Jose that Friday, according to the San Jose Police Department, which is handling the case.

The family has not been been seen or heard from since Thursday, the department said in a statement. Relatives filed a missing-persons report Sunday.

A flier posted on Facebook identified the family as Sandeep Thottapilly, 42; his wife, Soumya, 38; their son, Siddhant, 12; and daughter Saachi, 9.


The CHP has not directly connected the family to the vehicle spotted falling into the Eel River, which empties into the Pacific Ocean.

“Given the fact we haven’t located the vehicle and don’t have a license plate or any serial number or serialized item, we’re not wanting to jump to conclusions,” Wunderlich said.

The officer said that the stretch of highway that runs through the rural area gets particularly windy, and that the embankment is heavily forested and drops 50 to 100 feet down.

Anyone with information is asked to call the San Jose Police Department’s missing-persons unit at (408) 277-4786.

Twitter: @corinaknoll

Twitter: @haileybranson


6:15 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the search for a vehicle whose description matches that of the Thottapillys.

This article was originally published at 10:45 a.m.