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Man found dead in pond 2 days after fleeing deputies

Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 9:57 p.m.

The family of a 20-year-old Davis man discovered him dead in a pond surrounded by thick brush near Highway 101 north of Healdsburg on Friday — about 2½ days after he was last seen fleeing Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies who stopped him for a broken headlight.

Authorities had searched without success for James Flavio Gomez, a student at Sacramento City College, since he ran from them Tuesday night after first driving over the foot of a sheriff's deputy.

Gomez's mother said her son had fled because he didn't have a driver's license — not because he was on drugs, as authorities have suggested.

“He was a kid who got scared, and was afraid of getting in trouble,” said Laura Blyth of Davis. “He had a headlight out, and (deputies) were telling him 'That's not safe,' and then he made the worst choice of his life. But he's just a young, young kid.”

Gomez was pulled over Tuesday at 8:15 on Healdsburg Avenue, just south of Alexander Valley Road, Sheriff's Lt. Denis O'Leary said in a statement.

Gomez became “agitated and displayed symptoms of being under the influence of a controlled substance,” said O'Leary, who could not be reached for details.

When a deputy opened the car door, Gomez sped off, running over another deputy's foot. The car crashed at Lytton Station Road and Healdsburg Avenue, where a passenger, Kelsey Michaela Stauffer, got out.

She was arrested nearby on suspicion of resisting arrest and being under the influence of a controlled substance, O'Leary said.

Blyth said Friday that Stauffer was her son's girlfriend, the car was hers, and Gomez had been driving home from Fort Bragg because Stauffer was sick.

“She told me they were both completely sleep-deprived, they'd been camping and not sleeping, I don't know,” said Blyth, who added that she had seen the evidence booked in from the car and it did not include drugs.

Deputies assisted by a helicopter searched for four hours in the area where Gomez was last seen, O'Leary said. They returned Thursday night after being alerted by Gomez's father that his son was still missing.

Gomez's family organized a search party that found his body just before noon Friday, Blyth said.

Because deputies were involved in pursuing and searching for Gomez, Santa Rosa police are investigating what happened under an official protocol designed to provide neutral review of deaths involving officers.

“I don't think they (deputies) did anything wrong,” Blyth said. “I think James didn't stop, he was just a scared kid. But they didn't know that. They didn't know who he is.”

It was unclear how her son died, Blyth said, but she's been told that an autopsy is planned.

“James was a good, normal kid from Davis who loved hockey and hiking in Fort Bragg,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

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