Tuesday, February 9 , 2016, 12:43 am | Fair 54º

Authorities Explain Exhaustive Search for KEYT News Anchor Paula Lopez

Sheriff’s Department, family say ‘medical condition’ is responsible for all-out response to report of her disappearance

KEYT News anchor Paula Lopez and her husband, Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa, attend the Carpinteria Boys & Girls Club’s Impact 2012: Making Connections Dinner & Auction in May 2012. Lopez was the focus of an eight-hour search Wednesday after being classified as an “at-risk” missing person who may have needed medical attention.
KEYT News anchor Paula Lopez and her husband, Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa, attend the Carpinteria Boys & Girls Club’s Impact 2012: Making Connections Dinner & Auction in May 2012. Lopez was the focus of an eight-hour search Wednesday after being classified as an “at-risk” missing person who may have needed medical attention.  (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk file photo)

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

The circumstances were certainly unusual but authorities say Wednesday’s taxpayer-funded, all-out search for KEYT News anchor Paula Lopez was anything but special treatment.

Although foul play was not suspected, the reason law enforcement responded so quickly — and thoroughly — to find the missing 48-year-old mother of three was because she had been classified as an “at-risk” missing person who may have needed medical attention, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.

Lopez’s family shared a similar explanation Thursday, saying that a “medical condition” caused the concern. Lopez was found safe after an eight-hour search.

Details of Lopez’s medical condition have not been shared by her family, authorities or KEYT officials.

The story that captured the attention of those in Santa Barbara and beyond broke Wednesday after KEYT released a statement saying that Lopez was “missing.”

Lopez, who co-anchors the 11 p.m. news for the Central Coast’s ABC affiliate station, was reported missing by her family around 10 a.m. Wednesday — just 30 minutes after she had last been seen near her foothills home west of Santa Barbara.

Shortly after, sheriff’s personnel launched an exhaustive search of the neighborhood near Cathedral Oaks and North San Marcos roads.

Hoover told Noozhawk on Thursday that two K-9 units and a sheriff’s Air Support Unit helicopter searched for an hour and a half. Eight members of the sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team combed the area from 1 to 3:30 p.m.

When family members called the sheriff’s public safety dispatch around 5:30 p.m. to report that Lopez was home safe, authorities were mum on details, calling the incident a “private family matter.”

On Thursday, Hoover said Lopez did not receive preferential treatment because of her occupation or because she is married to Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa.

“We responded just as we would for any other person who was at risk and missing, according to our policy,” she said.

Whereas some cases require waiting an amount of time before reporting someone missing, Lopez was classified as “at-risk” because she met two of five criteria, Hoover said: There was reason to believe Lopez required medication attention, and she had no history of disappearing or running away.

The other criteria include a missing person who is a victim of a crime or foul play, a victim of a parental abduction or a mentally impaired person.

“We know that Ms. Lopez is well-loved and a familiar face in the community, but she did not receive any special treatment,” Hoover said. “The only part of the search that was a little different was that, due to the fact her husband is a Superior Court judge, the location of his residence is private. We had to be more vague” about the search area.

She said another missing-persons case reported around the same time Wednesday in the same area of Lopez’s home, involving a “suicidal woman,” was not related. That woman was also later located, Hoover said.

In a statement Thursday, Lopez’s family thanked the community for its concern.

“As a family, we were very alarmed because Paula was experiencing a medical condition that caused her to be unable to communicate with us,” the family wrote. “She is now receiving appropriate medical care and we hope and expect that her treatment will enable her to recover quickly.

“We would especially like to thank the representatives of the Office of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff and its Search and Rescue Unit for the diligent and professional assistance they provided to us during Paula’s medical emergency.”

KEYT general manager Mark Danielson would not comment on when Lopez will return to work, but he shared feelings of relief.

“On behalf of the KEYT family, we are thrilled to learn that our beloved friend and colleague, Paula Lopez, is now safe,” he said in a statement. “We are looking forward to her quick recovery. At the request of the family, we will respect their wishes for privacy and refer all questions to local law enforcement who worked hard to find Paula safe and sound.”

Hoover, a former journalist who called Lopez a personal friend, said authorities would not be releasing information about her medical condition.

“The reasons why she went missing is her information to share,” she said. “We’ve done our job as law enforcement to find her. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office does not consider any report of a missing person to be routine, and assumes the person is in immediate need of assistance until the facts reveal otherwise.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 03.01.13 @ 05:45 AM

Of course they will not say “Paula was a priority search because that’s Frank Ochoa’s wife”. A family member of hers said Ochoa and Paula had a huge fight that’s why she took a break. Who knows?

» on 03.01.13 @ 09:17 AM


» on 03.01.13 @ 10:05 AM

sure be vague, make us wonder if it’s drug or alcohol addiction something like that.

I don’t think I see where was reported where she was found and what was she doing out there

» on 03.01.13 @ 10:14 AM

Likely story.  The reality is that law enforcement makes “normal” people wait up to 48 hours before they will even take a missing persons report.  They should send her family the bill for the cost of the search.  At minimum the public deserves to know and verify what this supposed medical condition is.  Recently there was a bomb threat at Wells Fargo downtown branch, and the police sent one officer.  They claim not to have the funds to buy a bomb sniffing dog, and conducted no meaningful search.  Luckily there was no bomb, but there could have been, and if there was one, they would not have found it.  This is completely unacceptable.  If they have the money to conduct a helicopter search for the wife of a judge, they can find the money to provide adequate resources for real emergencies.

» on 03.01.13 @ 10:51 AM

Chucky is right- we were next door to their house and their was nothing I would classify as a “medical condition”... it was a domestic- one of many!  And also one that has been fueled by a long-time over use of ... well… we’ve all seen her slurring her words on the news.

» on 03.01.13 @ 11:18 AM

So let’s see if we have the story straight: Paula’s family leaves her alone while she is suffering from a “medical condition” that left her in a state of dementia and unable to communicate. She wanders off and within a half hour of her disappearance she is declared “missing”. a massive door to door search with k9 units, 8 deputies and (in spite of what the article says) 2 helicopters fails to locate her. Then 7 hours later she arrives home in a healthy enough state that she does not require a visit to an emergency room. All the time while they are looking for Paula another woman matching Paula’s description and in her neighborhood also goes missing and is suicidal. And no taxpayer dollars were spent in the seach since those helicopters were flying around doing nothing anyway.

» on 03.01.13 @ 11:26 AM

To all you people saying the city and county spent money and resources looking for Paula, and that they should not have…think about this…if it were you, would you have wanted help? Should we just ignore you?

» on 03.01.13 @ 11:35 AM

Nice spin guys, but I’m not buying it for a second.

» on 03.01.13 @ 12:45 PM

They need to reimburse the city and county. 

Obviously this was abuse of power and/or special treatment.  Hold them accountable. They can afford to pay for this and they should. 

Using the one excuse they know is neither verifiable or actionable, should not let them off the hook for this bizarre instance of special treatment.

Let’s keep on them for this

» on 03.01.13 @ 01:13 PM

Not buying it. But we’ll be paying for it.

» on 03.01.13 @ 01:25 PM

JustBobF- I never said I was not happy of her coming home. Keep it REAL of course I would want someone to search for me but you know they would have waited longer to do something about it. I have seen other missing people on TV they just put their picture up and if you have info call the police dept. There is no helicopters or k-9’s looking for them. #Truth

» on 03.01.13 @ 01:36 PM

The recording of the 911 call that was made by the family member who reported Paula missing should be released. 911 services are owned by the taxpayers and 911 recordings are public records. This whole thing stinks like the worse kind of coverup.

» on 03.01.13 @ 01:53 PM

Ah, the conspiracy theorists are out in force today.  I hear that Goorin Hat Co. is having a sale on tinfoil hats.

» on 03.01.13 @ 02:24 PM

So glad she is home and wish her well. Life can throw anyone a curve ball, even those in the public eye. We want Paula to return to KEYT and continue as she has. Do I want to know her personal business? NO. Would you want your personal problems aired so publicly? NO. Should such an all-out search have been instituted? How would we know? We didn’t take the call so we don’t know why swift action was needed. Because of who they are, did they get a little preferential attention? Probably. That’s just the way it has always worked with those in the public eye. A judge and a TV network can wield a modicum of power. Oh well. That will never change. Let’s move on and let Paula and the public heal from this incident. Best wishes to her as she works her way back.

» on 03.01.13 @ 02:33 PM

There is no conspiracy.  There is spin and a separate set of actions for them and the little people that must be addressed.

» on 03.01.13 @ 02:51 PM

Paula’s husband is a superior court judge. He is very much a public person and his judgement and public actions are our business. A call was made to the taxpayer owned 911 service. Taxpayer owned resources were used to search for his wife. Private properties were entered or viewed by Sheriff’s deputies and/or people authorized by the Sheriff searching for Paula. It has been reported that a call for assistance was made to taxpayer owned emergency services from the Ochoa/Lopez home the night before Paula went missing. This is very much the public’s business.

» on 03.01.13 @ 04:58 PM

If they used public funds for the search the public has a right to know why.
If the private property of citizens was entered and searched, those citizens have a right to know why.
It’s no different than hikers that get lost and request aid from county dispatch by calling 911 - we always find out if it was a heart attack, or medical emergency or if they were just lost.
AND they should reimburse the city for all of the cost if it is found to be fraudulent.

The 911 call has to be released. It reeks of special treatment if it isn’t.

» on 03.01.13 @ 06:08 PM

I’m not complaining that the sheriff acted quickly, and I’m glad Paula is safe.  It’s just too bad we can’t receive what WE pay for equally.  Sheriff Brown’s predecessor gave preferential treatment to a handful Montecito cop wannabes and the good sheriff was run out of office.  His Honor, Judge Ochoa, has a lot of people to “pay back” in order to keep a lid on this so-called missing person, medical condition, family matter.  If Paula’s medical condition was a mental condition and the police are called she would be required by law to be evaluated by a medical doctor before returning home.  I bet that hasn’t happened! 
Why do these politicians have to insult our intelligence?  Are they that disconnected with the public, with reality!  Everyone has known someone that been reported missing and no search of that magnitude has ever taken place on such short notice with exception of a child abduction.  Peter Lance will be doing 10 part story for the News Press if the rumors are true.  By the way, it’s not a private matter when laws are broken, policies are ignored, and public safety is put on the back burner.

» on 03.01.13 @ 07:01 PM

“Why do these politicians have to insult our intelligence?”

Because we keep voting in politicians that are full of hot air.

“Are they that disconnected with the public, with reality!”

Yes. Our US politicians and govt. workers have become a culture of entitlement mentality. And we just keep letting them raise our taxes. Why don’t the politicians that vote on health care for the masses have to use what they vote for? Yes, they are that disconnected with the public.  Its all about perception management.

» on 03.01.13 @ 08:40 PM

Hey, the way I hear it, a ninth generation Santa Barbarian is worth 10 little people.  Remember, this is the reality distortion zone.

» on 03.02.13 @ 02:05 AM

It has been a very rough week for Frank Ochoa. He has suffered the loss of his dearest and closest Uncle who was loved by everyone who new him also. I will not disclose his uncle’s name or other factors but suffice it to say the uncle was loved by the entire community also.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions they should be aware of all the information which is at hand. Paula Lopez is the mother of 3 beautiful children who like many others in the community suffer from asthma. Paula has worked very hard supporting Camp Wheez and we should also. I for one am suggesting we leave the family alone for the time being and let them enjoy some peace and quiet.

» on 03.02.13 @ 02:01 PM

little people = little minds.

» on 03.02.13 @ 03:54 PM

I’m sorry that Judge Ochoa is having a ‘rough week’.  Last time I checked that doesn’t entitle you to a higher standard of public service.

» on 03.02.13 @ 08:06 PM

no, but being a public figure married to a public figure just might.

little people = little minds.

» on 03.04.13 @ 01:49 AM

Locke you must be a little person yourself based on your comments.  Or for some reason you have a vested interest in promoting a cause.  Do tell!

» on 03.04.13 @ 12:31 PM

I’m 5’11”.

What cause might that be?

» on 03.05.13 @ 12:28 PM

I have no problem not knowing the details of her personal life.

That being said, the public should be told if the incident response was exactly the same as it would be for any person, or if some different protocol or policy was employed, and why.

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