The Kern River gave up a few of its secrets this weekend.
That included the battered, drowned car of a Ventura woman who’d been missing since April.
Lisa Harvey’s Toyota Solera was discovered in a most unusual way: An individual who is among a group that scours the banks of the Kern River looking for lost and discarded treasures came across a clue.
Kern County Sheriff’s Sgt. Zachary Bittle, the department’s search and rescue coordinator, said a scavenger came across a bag while searching the river near mile marker 23 on Highway 178, in the Kern River canyon.
The bag contained items with Harvey's name on them that prompted the scavenger to undertake an internet search using her name as a keyword. Realizing she was missing, the person called the Kern County Sheriff’s Office to report the find on Thursday, Bittle said.
With that prompting, search and rescue officers were able to find Harvey’s car submerged upside down in a pool of the frigid river.
On Saturday they pulled the car from the river and recovered a body from the vehicle.
The Kern County Coroner’s office has not yet announced whether the body is that of Lisa Harvey. But a Facebook page reportedly maintained by Harvey’s family to aid in their search for her posted this statement on Saturday: “Rest in Peace Sweet Lisa.” It included a link to The Californian’s initial story about the retrieval of the car.
According to Sheriff’s reports, Harvey was last seen on April 29 when she left Tulare County headed to the Lake Isabella area.
She never got there.
Authorities and family members launched a search, and a good portion of it was focused on Highway 178 through the Kern River canyon.
Bittle said crews searched up and down the canyon and surveyed the route from the air more than once.
They never found evidence that a car had left the roadway, he said.
Then the summer recreation season hit and Kern County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Crews were swamped with rescues and searches as visitors came to play in the Kern River during one of the largest and most dangerous water years in the past decade.
Fourteen people died in the river in 2017 and another person is still missing, presumed drowned.
The call from the riverbank scavenger helped Kern County Sheriff’s search and rescue teams zero in on the spot where, they believe, Harvey’s car left Highway 178.
The only lasting clue to the crash, Bittle said, was a broken tree branch.
“Even walking from the roadway, unless you really knew what you were looking for, you wouldn’t have seen it,” he said.
At that point, three miles upriver of the Upper Richbar Campground, the river runs 100 feet below the roadway at the bottom of a steep drop.
They discovered the car submerged upside down in a large pool in the river, lodged against a rock and shaded by a huge tree.
“There’s no way you would have seen it from the air,” Bittle said.
The California Highway Patrol closed Highway 178 so that Search and Rescue crews, tow companies and other officials could bring Harvey’s Toyota Solera up out of the river.
Bittle said that involved a diver attaching a cable to the submerged car and heavy tow equipment pulling it out against extreme pressure.
Search officials didn’t settle for just one such discovery over the weekend, however.
Bittle said they located and retrieved two other cars that had ended up in the river.
Those cars did not contain bodies.
The first was a burned, stolen Corvette, Bittle said, that was found a quarter mile upstream from Harvey’s vehicle, lying in a boulder field.
“It looks like it was burned completely and pushed off,” he said.
A motorist tipped them off to that vehicle as they were setting up to retrieve the Toyota Solera.
Another vehicle was found two miles downstream, mostly submerged in the low flows that are now running through the river.
Bittle described that one as a “junker Toyota that looked like someone had gotten tired of it.”
Both of those cars were removed from the river Sunday.