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Crime News Breaking News

Couple Who Vanished Around The Same Time Teen Kiely Rodni Disappeared Are Found Dead

Janette Pantoja And Juan Almaza Zavala disappeared on the way home from a car show in Reno earlier this month. They were found dead outside their vehicle in an embankment off the highway on Tuesday.

By Jill Sederstrom
Tragic Car Crash Crime Scenes

A missing Northern California couple who disappeared around the time that teen Kiely Rodni vanished have been found dead.

Janette Pantoja, 29, and her ex-boyfriend Juan Almaza Zavala, 36, were discovered Wednesday dead outside their vehicle, which had crashed down the side of a highway embankment along Highway 20 and Poker Flats Road, according to a joint statement from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office and Yuba City Police.

Zavala could only be tentatively identified due to the extent of his injuries, investigators said.

Authorities discovered the bodies after a man called 911 around 5 p.m. Wednesday and reported finding a vehicle that appeared to have crashed. The call was dropped before the dispatcher was able to obtain any additional information but when authorities arrived at the scene, the man was able to point to the possible crash site, which had not been visible from the highway and was “significantly covered by brush.”

Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies and officers with the California Highway Patrol discovered skid marks in the dirt of the highway shoulder before finding a blue 2002 Ford Explorer and both bodies outside the vehicle.

Janette 'JJ' Pantoja and Juan Almanza Zavala who went missing

Pantoja’s sister, Alejandra Pantoja told Fox News that the pair had gone to the Hot August Nights car and music show in Reno on Aug. 6 and were planning to return home that same day. Investigators have said the former couple planned to return on Aug. 7. 

The duo, who had dated for eight years, had broken up a few years ago but had remained friends and continued to do things together, KCRA reports.

Alejandra said her sister texted her current boyfriend around 11 p.m. and said she’d be home in about 30 minutes, but she never arrived. She stopped sharing her location about half an hour later.

“She just never communicated anything other than that,” Alejandra said. “She’s not like that.”

Her phone had been in the location of Poker Flat Road—near where her body was later discovered—before it went silent, her sister told KCRA.

Authorities had searched the Penn Valley area in the days after the couple was reported missing, but didn’t find the vehicle.

The California Highway Patrol is now conducting a vehicle accident investigation to determine what happened in their final moments.

A police handout of missing teen Kiely Rodni

The same day Pantoja's sister said the couple disappeared, 16-year-old Kiely Rodni vanished from a party at the Prosser Family Campground in Truckee, California, about 70 miles from the former couple’s crash site.

Investigators do not believe there is any link between the two cases, Fox News reports. 

Rodni, who was last seen around 12:30 a.m. that morning, had reportedly been drinking at the party. Her cell phone was turned off not long after she was last spotted at the party and it has not been turned on since.

Authorities launched an extensive ground, air and water search to try to find the teen in the days that have followed, but so far, there has been no sign of her.

On Monday, Nevada County Sheriff Capt. Sam Brown announced during a press conference that the search effort is being scaled back.

“We are moving into a more limited, but continuous search and rescue effort,” he said. “We’ve pulled in a ton of resources towards that goal and I think to date we’ve had like over 9,000 man hours into searching, which is pretty astronomical. Our biggest problem is where do we go and how do we keep sustaining this?”

Brown said the authorities now plan to “switch modes” and focus on more investigative efforts to find the teen.

“Obviously our search for Kiely continues and we’re trying to do the best that we can to keep things moving in a positive way and attempt to find some clues and locate some idea of where we need to get to,” Brown said.

Rodni’s mom Lindsey Rodni-Nieman told KNTV on Tuesday that they are still “just waiting for her to come through the door.”

“We still don’t know what happened to her,” she said. “We’re just working to piece together those last moments that she was at the party to figure out where she did go and with whom.”

Authorities say Rodni, who is described as being 5’7” tall and weighing 118 pounds, was spotted in video from the party wearing a white sweatshirt with pink bubble letters that read “ODD FUTURE.” She’s also believed to have been wearing a black spaghetti strap body suit, green Dickies brand pants, a black grommet belt and black Vans shoes.

She has blonde hair, hazel eyes, and a tattoo of the number “17” on her ribs.

Anyone with information about the case is urged to email sheriff_tahoeinvesttips@placer.ca.gov or call a specially-designated tip line at (530) 581-6320, option 7.