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Body Found on Montecito Trail During Search for Missing Los Angeles County Fire Captain

Search launched in Hot Springs Canyon after Wayne Habell's vehicle was discovered parked at East Mountain Drive trailhead


A body believed to be that of a missing Los Angeles County fire captain was found Saturday evening off Montecito’s Hot Springs Trail, a day after his SUV was discovered parked at the trailhead on East Mountain Drive.

Late Saturday, authorities would not confirm that the body was that of Wayne Stuart Habell, who was reported missing Monday. They said the cause and manner of death remain under investigation.

On Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles County fire officials confirmed Habell had been found.

"It is with great pain and sorrow that we mourn the loss of Fire Captain Wayne Habell," the agency's Facebook page said. "Captain Habell leaves behind a wife and three children. Everyone including his Fire Department family is devastated. Our deepest condolences and sympathies to the entire Habell family."

Habell’s black 2008 Chrysler Aspen was located about 2 p.m. Friday in Montecito, the Los Angeles County Fire Department announced on social media Friday night.

The vehicle apparently had been parked for several days at the trailhead next to Hot Springs Creek, about a quarter-mile west of Hot Springs Road.

Habell, a 43-year-old married father of three, had last been seen at 7:30 a.m. Monday, when he left his home in Newhall headed for a gym in Stevenson Ranch, LACFD officials said.

He reportedly had been suffering from depression, according to a missing person’s bulletin released by the department.

The discovery of the body came more than 24 hours after Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies responded to the Hot Springs trailhead to check on a report that a vehicle had been parked there since Monday, sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Huddle said Saturday night.

There was no sign of Habell in or near the SUV, however, and Huddle said a witness had reported seeing a lone man walking up the trail from the vehicle.

Sheriff’s deputies, the Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit and the all-volunteer county Search & Rescue Team began an extensive search of the area Friday, but did not find the man. The search was suspended at nightfall Friday, and it resumed early Saturday.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, searchers located a man’s body in Hot Springs Canyon, Huddle said.

A short time later, a procession of emergency vehicles accompanied a county coroner’s vehicle down Hot Springs Road to Highway 101, and then on to the Coroner’s Office in Goleta for further investigation.

Authorities stopped short of confirming the body was that of Habell.

“The body was taken to the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office for further investigation,” Huddle said. “At this time, the Coroner’s Office is unable to confirm the identity of the decedent.”

It was not immediately known whether Habell had any previous connection to Montecito, or possibly to the Thomas Fire that exploded through Hot Springs Canyon on Dec. 16. Several thousand firefighters were deployed in Montecito that morning, including units from LACFD.

August has been a particularly cruel month for the tight-knit community of firefighters. At least a half-dozen fire personnel have died while battling the massive wildfires that have been raging throughout California.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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.

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