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Search continues for missing Stivers family

Air and ground search crews focused on two mountain roads to the Oregon Coast in their intensified attempt Thursday to find an Ashland family not seen in almost two weeks, amid criticism that authorities may have waited too long for an all-out search.

Searchers in two helicopters, one airplane and almost two dozen specialized ground vehicles are probing Bear Camp Road between Galice and Gold Beach as well as Highway 199 for the six members of the Stivers family last seen March 4 in Ashland.

They are looking for 29-year-old Pete Stivers and 31-year-old Marlo Stivers, of Ashland, along with their two children, 9-year-old Sabastyan and 8-year-old Gabrayell, as well as Pete Stivers' mother and stepfather, identified as Becky and Elbert Higginbotham. The individuals were last seen March 4 leaving Ashland for what neighbors believed was a trip to the coast in the Higginbothams' 35-foot white and brown motor home with Arizona license plate 171TDH.

After a Wednesday search of the area by airplane failed to locate any sign of the 35-foot motor home, about 60 searchers returned Thursday with two helicopters, an airplane, three Tucker Sno-Cats, a dozen snowmobiles and eight rugged four-wheel-drive machines.

We're dumping all our resources into the effort, said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters, who is heading the search. We're looking at Bear Camp. We're looking at Highway 199. We're looking at everything.

— Much of the effort focused on the winding, single-lane Bear Camp Road between Galice and Gold Beach. Up to nine feet of snow ' and as much as five feet since the Stiverses' disappearance ' has fallen along parts of that Forest Service road, rendering it impassable and perhaps even concealing the motor home had it broken down or crashed, police said Thursday.

I'm hoping they didn't go that way, Ashland police Detective Brent Jensen said. If they did, let's hope they're stranded and didn't go over an embankment.

Mobile command units were set up in Josephine County near Galice and at a Highway 199 rest stop at the base of Oregon Mountain in Del Norte County, authorities said.

Thursday's search was the level of intensity that the Stiverses' friend Char Seward said she would have liked to have seen a week earlier when Rose Hill, Marlo Stivers' mother in Ashland, first reported Stivers missing.

I think it should have been taken seriously then, Seward said.

While family members scoured coastal Curry County roads during their own search Sunday, Seward said she did not ask any law-enforcement agencies to launch a search like Thursday's effort.

We're not the detectives, Seward said. People who get paid to do this should think of things before people like us who haven't dealt with anything like this before.

Jensen said focusing on these search areas did not happen earlier in part because of conflicting reports of where the Stiverses may have headed, no information about their chosen route and no information about the Higginbothams' banking activities.

Witnesses have told investigators that the children and Pete Stivers said they were headed to Disneyland in Southern California, Jensen said. Marlo Stivers told Seward they were headed to the Oregon Coast, but gave no destination or possible route.

I can't call search and rescue and say, 'Can you search every road between here and Disneyland for me?' Jensen said Thursday.

While police knew over the weekend that Marlo Stivers was not answering her cell phone and that the Stiverses had not tried to access their bank accounts, it wasn't until late Tuesday that police learned there have been no outgoing calls from that phone, Jensen said.

About noon Wednesday, investigators learned there was no use of the known bank accounts of the Higginbothams, a nomadic pair who travel regularly and whose last known address was in Heber, Ariz., Jensen said.

In my mind, that's what tipped it, Jensen said.

Jensen Wednesday called for searches in the Bear Camp Road and Highway 199 areas ' the two most logical choices had the family headed toward Brookings or Gold Beach, Jensen said.

Jensen described Elbert Higginbotham as the rugged outdoors type who may have seen Bear Camp Road on the map and ventured to try it.

With no evidence to suggest the six had met with violence, the most logical scenarios to Jensen on Thursday were mechanical problems to the motor home, an accident or simply getting stuck in snow.

I'm quite convinced they are somewhere and they want to come home but can't, Jensen said.

On Sunday, family members searched backwoods roads in Curry County but found no sign of the Stiverses.

Though their disappearance has drawn national media coverage and tips have come in across the nation, no credible sightings have been confirmed, Jensen said Thursday.

Josephine County search and rescue teams searched the eastern side of Bear Camp Road on Tuesday as part of a training exercise, Jensen said.

Jackson County teams Wednesday searched the forest roads around other areas where the family might have headed, including the Klamath River, Diamond Lake in eastern Douglas County, and forest roads off Highway 140 toward Klamath Falls. Also searched were the Dead Indian Plateau east of Ashland, the area around Lost Creek Lake, Butte Falls and Crater Lake National Park.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail Search continues for missing Stivers family"mfreeman@mailtribune.com.