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Santa Ana College baseball player found dead in Fullerton

James Patrick Wernke was last seen Saturday afternoon. His body was found in a wooded creek bed that may have flooded during the weekend's rains, authorities say.

December 15, 2009|By Gerrick D. Kennedy

Authorities said Tuesday that a 21-year-old Santa Ana College student missing for three days probably died after being swept up by a rain-swollen creek near his Fullerton home.

The body of James Patrick Wernke was found face-down in about 2 feet of water in a remote, heavily wooded creek bed, said Lt. Alex Bastreri of the Fullerton Police Department, adding that police had ruled out foul play.

"There is nothing suspicious," Bastreri said.

Police said water in the creek rose as high as 8 feet during the weekend's heavy rains.

Relatives, friends and authorities searched frantically for Wernke. He was last seen Saturday afternoon in the 3000 block of Sunnywood Drive in Fullerton -- about half a mile from where his body was found -- walking his girlfriend's yellow Labrador retriever, Kealie.

In a phone interview before Wernke's body was found Tuesday, his girlfriend, Sami Bock, said she could not comprehend how her boyfriend could have vanished.

"This isn't like him at all, he wouldn't do something like this," Bock said, tears choking her voice. "He's very outgoing . . . very charismatic. He's not going to just go on a walk and disappear."

Wernke's father, Bob Wernke, said he and his wife last heard from their son about 1:15 p.m. Saturday. They began to worry after he failed to reply to a number of text messages.

Because his son stood 6 feet 2 and weighed about 190 pounds, Bob Wernke said he doubted that anyone could have seriously harmed his son.

Wernke said his son left without his wallet, driver's license or car.

He was carrying only his cellphone, which was either dead, lost or turned off because authorities were unable to pick up a signal.

There had been no calls made from Wernke's phone since he spoke with his mother Saturday afternoon.

During the search Sunday, bloodhounds traced a scent to a 7-Eleven store about a mile from the Bock residence, before losing it near Imperial Highway. The Labrador, which is microchipped, has yet to be found, Bastreri said.

gerrick.kennedy@latimes.com

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