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FEMA Inspector Missing a Week Is Subject of Search

March 09, 1994|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What has become of FEMA Inspector Robert Francis Fisher?

The 39-year-old construction worker and building inspector left his Oakland home for Los Angeles several weeks ago to help inspect houses damaged in the Jan. 17 earthquake. He even "met a girl" on one inspection tour, whom he later took out to dinner, and bought a fishing pole at a neighborhood yard sale, his brother said Tuesday.

But now Fisher has gone, disappeared without a trace, and his brother and the Los Angeles Police Department's Missing Persons Unit are looking for him. Fisher was last seen by colleagues on Tuesday evening of last week when he was heading for his room at the Comfort Inn at 8647 Sepulveda Blvd. in North Hills.

As the days turned into a week Tuesday, his brother and police said they were beginning to fear the worst. Fisher's rental car is gone too, and so is his cellular phone and government-issued portable computer.

"Three or four days ago, I was hoping he was having fun. But that would come to an end," said Fisher's brother, Rodney, 31, who also left Oakland on Feb. 12 to make some money as a contract inspector for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "It's been seven days. I just don't know. I'm worried."

Fisher had just joined a company known as Suncoast Associates Inc. of Edmonds, Wash., when he was sent to Los Angeles on Feb. 5 for quake duty. His brother was sent to Los Angeles a week later, and said the two kept in touch every day. When Rodney Fisher returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday after several days back home in Oakland, he said no one had seen his brother for several days.

Even more troubling, he said, was that the daily calls and messages had stopped.

"I think he would have called me," Rodney Fisher said. "He left all his clothes. I don't think he has anything except the clothes on his back."

Since his brother's disappearance, Rodney Fisher has spent hours working the phones and knocking on doors in search of him. Over the weekend, he and his two brothers-in-law, both of whom were sharing Fisher's motel room and working for FEMA too, scoured the areas where Fisher had last inspected houses.

"They all remember him," Rodney Fisher said of the people he visited, "but they haven't heard from him since then."

Many of the neighborhoods were in South-Central Los Angeles, areas where Rodney Fisher said danger appeared to lurk on every street corner. He described his brother as somewhat naive, a loquacious and friendly man who wouldn't hesitate to talk to anybody he met during his work or travels, no matter the location.

"The area he's (working) in, he didn't have a problem with the violence there. It was nothing to him. He'd just go over there and do his job and come back," Rodney Fisher said. "I went there over the weekend and some guys looked at me like they wanted to take my head off. I wouldn't work there."

Rodney Fisher fears someone may have taken advantage of his brother's friendliness, and that perhaps foul play was involved. He said his brother did not drink, do drugs or have a gambling problem. Even if Robert Fisher were the type to buy drugs, his brother said, he would never put himself in jeopardy by buying them from strangers in a dangerous neighborhood.

Fisher had already cashed his paycheck when he was last seen at 9 p.m. March 1. He was staying in his brother's motel room for a few days while Rodney was up north, because there were three other people in his own room.

"That was the last time anyone talked to him," Rodney Fisher said.

Detective Raynette Sincosky of the LAPD's Missing Persons Unit said nothing in Fisher's past gives authorities any reason to think he's the type to disappear on his own accord. But she said police also have checked the morgue, as many of the 250 or so local hospitals that they could, and even that vast repository of the wounded and the dead--County-USC Medical Center--to see if Fisher has shown up as an unidentified John Doe.

They found nothing, she said.

"There's nothing to indicate any foul play; no shootings in the area, no John Does that have been identified (as him), nothing that leads us to believe he was a victim of crime," Sincosky said. "And he has no criminal record. He's just a normal person, who's disappeared."

John Hall, the Fisher brothers' Suncoast supervisor in Los Angeles, said Robert Fisher was working neighborhoods in Fillmore, South-Central Los Angeles, Century City and Pacoima. He said he too grows more worried by the day.

"We have no idea what happened," Hall said. "We're real concerned."

Hall said other Suncoast employees who travel to every federally declared disaster area have been held up at gunpoint and robbed since they've been in Los Angeles. "We've had a lot of problems; more than anywhere else in the rest of the country," he said.

Rodney Fisher had to return to work Tuesday to pay the hotel and rental car bills, but said he can think of nothing else but his brother.

"We kind of got burned out, going place to place, running out of leads," Fisher said. "I don't know where to look. I'm not used to this area. I wouldn't even know where to start."

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