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Neighbors discover body of their friend

'Local people who cared' find missing Shady Cove man

After authorities called off a hunt for a missing Shady Cove man, friends found his body about 100 yards from where previous search teams had stopped looking.

Friends found 's body shortly after noontime Friday along an access road to a shale gravel pit off Indian Creek Road, said Shady Cove Police Chief Kim Gibson, who took the initial missing-person report Tuesday.

We found him within four hours, up at the rock quarry where we asked them to search, said Sharon Brown, Hernandez's friend and employer.

We had information that he used two areas of paths and we focused on those areas, Jackson County sheriff's department Capt. Joe Puckett said. We were told that he didn't use the road where he was found because of a dispute with a neighbor in that area.

— You have to go with the information you have, and we checked all those areas, Puckett said. You always wish you had gone a little further.

Community members went a little further Friday morning when 14 people and a dog not trained in searching headed into the hills where they knew Hernandez walked.

They threw in the towel and gave up, Brown said of the first search teams. It was left to the local people who cared.

She said she wanted community members who knew Hernandez and were familiar with the terrain more involved in the search earlier.

Puckett acknowledges that it's tough to strike a balance between anxious friends who want to help and the requirements of a professional search. Crowds of helpers can disturb signs that trackers or dogs could follow and might disrupt evidence needed in a later investigation if a body is found, he said.

A time and means of death hasn't been determined yet, but preliminary investigations didn't reveal anything suspicious, Gibson said. The sheriff's office continues the investigation and an autopsy is set for early next week.

Brown reported Hernandez missing Tuesday morning after worrying about him all weekend. Hernandez worked as a dishwasher, prep cook and handyman at Brownie's Restaurant & Catering, owned by Brown and her husband, Ken.

He was like our adopted son, said Sharon Brown, whose son was killed by a drunken driver in Phoenix, Ariz., last October.

She started fretting when Hernandez failed to pick up his paycheck Saturday. Then he didn't make it to a troop-support rally that afternoon that he had been looking forward to, Brown said. He left a bag of laundry, fresh from the Laundromat, at the restaurant to pick up later, but never returned for it. At home, he hadn't cared for his beloved pet dog.

Hernandez was seen last Friday night after leaving Shy's Lounge, a bar he frequented to sing oldies on karaoke nights.

He had a good voice, said Shy's bartender Larry Smith. He stuttered a little sometimes when he talked, but not when he sang.

Brown on Sunday called Hernandez's mom, who is disabled after multiple strokes and stays in close contact with her son, but she hadn't heard from him either. Brown was confident that Hernandez hadn't just up and left.

After Brown called police, officials interviewed dozens of people who knew Hernandez to gather information on his habits and walking routes.

About 40 people, trained dogs and a private helicopter searched a five-square-mile area Tuesday and Wednesday. The dogs sniffed through the search area one final time Thursday before the search was called off, Puckett said.

Friends have established a memorial fund at Western Bank in Shady Cove to pay Hernandez's funeral expenses, Brown said.

Hernandez had family, including a 12-year-old son, in California, Brown said.

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Mike Hernandez