Central Coast's own ghost-busters investigate paranormal activity

Central Coast Paranormal Investigators — from left, Rob Burr, Ray Anne Brewen John Harrison, Micah Watkins and Mitch Flores — pose outside the abandoned Sunny Acres building in San Luis Obispo.
Central Coast Paranormal Investigators — from left, Rob Burr, Ray Anne Brewen John Harrison, Micah Watkins and Mitch Flores — pose outside the abandoned Sunny Acres building in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

When dealing with mysterious noises, strange lights and shadowy presences, Central Coast residents know exactly who to call.

The Central Coast Paranormal Investigators have been shining a light on the things that go bump in the night since 2007. Their motto? “Don’t fear the unknown.”

Founder Mitch Flores and his team spend their nights staking out homes, hotels, restaurants and other local haunts in search of proof of paranormal activity.

Acknowledging that some people may have doubts about the existence of ghosts, spirits and the supernatural, Flores said, “We were all skeptics at one time until we had our experience.

“If everybody believed, that would make for a very boring world,” said Flores, who is a supervising security officer at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital who also runs a bounty-hunting business.

A Nipomo resident for 25 years, Flores can trace his belief in the paranormal to a ghostly childhood encounter.

While on his paper route, the 12-year-old spotted an older man staring down at him from a house window.

“I just got chills instantly,” Flores recalled. His mother later told him that that home’s occupant had recently died.

Years later, while working as a custodian at a local high school one night, Flores experienced strange phenomena including a clock spinning backwards, mysterious footsteps in the attic and lights that, once shut off, flicked back on.

“It occurred to me then that there was nowhere (locally) for anyone to turn if they were experiencing something unexplained,” Flores said. “There was no one to give definite answers.”

That’s why he started his own team of supernatural sleuths. It currently consists of six people who volunteer their time for free.

Chris Rodriguez, the team’s lead “tech guy” since November 2011, experienced a brush with the paranormal when he was stationed at Camp San Luis Obispo in 1998. He and his ex-wife would notice strange noises, he recalled, or come home to find previously shut doors standing open.

“I’m much more skeptical than most,” said Rodriguez, senior operations center specialist at MindBody. But even he couldn’t deny the possibility of an otherworldly explanation.

“When a client comes to us, they’re really just looking for validation,” the Paso Robles resident said. “They’re wanting someone to basically sit there with them and say, ‘You’re not crazy.’”

Before each investigation, Rodriguez and his fellow team members interview clients about their observations and research the site’s history and layout.

They return at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. with digital voice recorders and high-definition cameras equipped with infrared and night vision. Team members then spend eight to 10 hours exploring the site in total darkness — sometimes asking questions or moving objects in hopes of provoking a response.

According to Flores, they’re searching for “the holy grail of evidence” — video and audio recordings such as electronic voice phenomena, or, EVP, that believers say are the sounds of spirits communicating from the beyond.

Although most investigations are conducted at night, Flores said the timing has nothing to do with supernatural schedules.

“If your house or your business has activity, it’s going on all day, all night,” he explained. “You’re not noticing it during the daytime because you’ve got machines going, cars driving by, phones ringing.”

Even at night, however, they have to be careful to avoid confusion.

“If you cough, sneeze, if you drop something on the floor, then you timestamp it on the audio,” Flores said. “You explain what happened and say your name.”

Flores said the investigators first try to find rational explanations for their clients’ claims, such as drug and alcohol use, electromagnetic fields, medications and hormonal teenagers, before considering other possibilities.

“The last thing we want to do is sit down the client and go, ‘You have multiple spirits, and they don’t want you here,’” he said.

So far, the team has investigated about 95 cases — mostly in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara County, although they’ve traveled as far as Death Valley, Nev., and Phoenix, Ariz. They recently wrapped up investigations at Camp Roberts north of San Miguel and Point San Luis Lighthouse in Avila Beach but are still analyzing the results.

Although the investigators originally charged for their services, Flores said they did away with fees in April because they felt “it was taking investigation opportunities from us.” Now they rely on donations to cover the cost of transportation, hotel stays and equipment costs.

According to Flores, only 10 percent of investigations have resulted in what he considers tangible evidence.

During a visit to the former Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe, Flores said, he felt a chilly little hand grasping his own, saw a shadowy outline and heard footsteps pounding above his head.

On a different investigation, he heard a female voice utter a name “Sarah,” and got “psychically grabbed” while exploring an abandoned Goleta gas station.

Multiple visits to the Lompoc Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, resulted in reports of a child’s disembodied voice and heavy footsteps.

When something like that happens, Flores said, “We act like a bunch of kids in a candy shop. We get really excited.”

Still, the men said, movies and reality shows about paranormal investigators can be misleading — exaggerating events for dramatic effect while playing down the long hours and tedium.

After all, shows like “Ghost Hunters” seek out the most active haunted sites in the nation.

“We don’t have access to asylums and old hospitals where people had lobotomies done,” Rodriguez said.

“Of course,” he added, if “anyone in SLO wants to (give us access), we’re interested.”

How we created this photo

We thought the abandoned Sunny Acres building would be the perfect setting for a photo of the Central Coast Paranormal Investigators.

This shot took several tries, starting just after sunset until about a half an hour later. Photographer Joe Johnston had the investigators stand very still with their flashlights pointed at the ground. Then he opened the shutter on his camera for a 30-second exposure (on a tripod, of course). He flashed them with a red-colored strobe, followed by a regular strobe. Then, immediately afterward, he had three of them leave the frame to the left and the other two leave to the right while pointing their flashlights toward the camera. He then fired the flashes onto a couple of other parts of the building to help lighten them up.

The finished result is that the investigators are frozen by the flashes but become transparent because they were in the frame for only about 12 seconds of the 30-second exposure.

The light streaks were created when the investigators walked out of the frame with their flashlights on.

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