Delay in search for missing woman due to 'breakdown in communication,' authorities say

betling@thetribunenews.comSeptember 19, 2012 

A “breakdown in communication” caused a three-day delay in the search for a missing Los Osos woman, according to a statement issued by the county Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday. Suzanne Kay Smith, a 59-year-old Los Osos woman who had been missing for nearly a week, was found in a barn on a ranch north of San Simeon on Sunday. She remained in Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center on Wednesday morning. At the request of her family, her condition was kept private.

Sheriff's spokesman Tony Cipolla said in a news release authorities received a call from a person at the ranch at 10:30 a.m. Sunday who reported the woman was in the barn. "The resident discovered Smith after hearing calls for help from a barn located on the property," which is at 18550 Highway 1.

"Smith told the resident that she had been involved in a car accident and had been on the property for the last week," Cipolla related.

Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said authorities received a call from a male renter at a ranch near Ragged Point at 10:30 a.m. Sunday who reported that a woman was in the barn.

“The person who rents the property heard her calling out for help,” Cipolla said. “He went to investigate, and that is when he found her.” She was reported missing Sept. 10. Her truck was found by the CHP on Sept. 11 off Highway 1 just north of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, about seven miles south of the ranch where she was found.

CHP reported the recovery of the truck that same day to the Sheriff’s Office, spokesman Tony Cipolla said via email, “however no search was initiated at that time.”

It wasn’t until after Smith’s brother checked her mail Friday and found a notice that her car had been towed that the search began.

“This delay was determined to be caused by an internal breakdown in communication,” Cipolla said. “The sheriff (Ian Parkinson) takes these matters seriously and is looking into internal policies and procedures to take appropriate action to ensure that this does not happen again. We are thankful that Smith was found safe.”

Smith disappeared in the days after she was released from jail following an arrest on charges of burglary and inflicting injury on an elder.

That injury, according to Jora Landis, Smith’s neighbor for 16 years, was not physical, but mental suffering caused to an elderly victim due to the taking of her belongings. Landis said Smith needed money for medical help and that the burglary victim is not pressing charges.

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