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California Woman Missing Since August Found In Car Crashed Off Cliff
Jolissa Fuentes disappeared from the Fresno area in early August. On Monday, her hometown police chief found her car and her body at the bottom of a cliff.
A California woman who has been missing since August has been found dead, and foul play is not suspected.
Jolissa Fuentes, 22, was reported missing on Aug. 8 from her hometown in Selma, California — 15 miles southeast of Fresno. Her family said she'd attended a party at a friend's house on the evening of Aug. 6, which stretched into the early morning hours, stopped at her grandmother's house to grab a bag and headed off. Surveillance footage placed her at a convenience store in Selma around 4:00 a.m. on Aug. 7, but neither she nor her silver 2011 Hyundai Accent were seen after that.
At the time, authorities said that her phone pinged after that in the city of Sanger, as well as Avocado Lake and Pine Flat Lake areas — all well northeast of Selma — before going dark. Fuentes, who was an active social media user, also posted nothing after that morning.
A reward of $10,000 was offered for information that would help locate her, and the YouTube diving team Adventures With Purpose searched the Avocado and Pine Flat Lake areas at the end of August with no success.
But on Monday, Selma Police Department Chief Rudy Alcaraz was driving in a hilly area in the northern part of Pine Flat Lake — on Trimmer Road near Maxon Road — when he noticed vehicle debris near a sharp curve in the road, on the edge of a forested cliff, according to a release from the Fresno Sheriff's Department. He subsequently noticed old tire tracks going through the vegetation and off the cliff.
"Drones were flown and deputies rappelled down more than 400 feet off the roadway and discovered a damaged car," the release stated. "The vehicle belonged to Jolissa Fuentes."
"Human remains and some of Jolissa's personal belongings were discovered in this ravine," they added. Alcaraz said at a press conference that Fuentes' body was discovered about 250 feet down, but her car had continued further and fell off a second cliff.
Official identification of her body is still pending. California Highway Patrol is investigating the specific circumstances of the crash.
Drone footage released by police shows a severely damaged car nestled amid boulders and under some trees, at the base of a steep cliff next to a winding mountain road with no guardrails. Police said the vehicle was neither visible from the road or the lake.
Fresno and Selma police gave a press conference on Tuesday with Fuentes' family in attendance.
"I wish that we could've brought Ms. Fuentes home," Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz said it was a single car accident, and they don't believe she hit anything before the crash.
"I would imagine, to speculate, I think she'd been up all night," Alcaraz said, looking to Fuentes' grieving family for confirmation. "Just fell asleep, was tired, at the wrong place in the road, at the bend, and then it just was an unfortunate accident."
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims revealed that Alcaraz found the car searching for Fuentes on his day off.
"Chief Alcarez is a very humble man and he won't say this about himself," she said. "He went up to the mountains yesterday on his own. He'd been researching areas that had already been searched and, on his own, he actually found the scene of the accident."
"Being a woman of faith, I think he was divinely channeled to that area — along with his police instinct," she added. "I think he was meant to be the one who found her because he's worked so very hard on this case for so long with the family."
"I got a fresh set of eyes, a little bit of luck, police instinct and a little bit of faith and prayer," said Alcarez about how he managed to spot the debris. "I just got lucky. Sometimes luck is all you need."
Joey Fuentes, Jolissa's father, also spoke at the press conference of behalf of their family, breaking down in tears as he thanked people for their help and prayers.
"I want to thank this community, not just the community, but this whole nation. The cries and the real pain of my wife and my sisters and my family was heard around this whole country," he said, choking up.
"When this first happened with my daughter, I talked to Chief Alcarez and told him, 'Man-to-man, I'm talking to you, You have a daughter, you have children?' And he told me, 'Yes, I do, Joey,'" Fuentes explained. "'I want you to go after my daughter like she's your daughter, Chief.'"
"And you know what he told me? He goes, 'I promise you, Joey, I promise you I will find your daughter,'" he added. "He couldn't tell me when, but he was going to find her. And he was the one that found her. He was a man of his word."
"He's my hero," he continued. "I know it was his love. He went after her like she was his."
After a choked-up Fuentes finished, he hugged Alcarez, who could be heard saying, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."