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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 1:52 pm | Overcast 60º


Santa Maria City Workers Honored for Actions During Search for Missing Teen

The City Council recognizes landfill employees Robert Cossa, George Torres and Douglas Shearer for their 'service above and beyond’

Three Santa Maria Utilities Department workers were recognized Tuesday night for their “quick thinking, selfless actions and efforts to provide service above and beyond the routine duties” during the search to locate a missing at-risk student last month.

The Santa Maria City Council expressed appreciation for the actions of Robert Cossa and George Torres, both landfill heavy equipment operators, along with Douglas Shearer, solid waste landfill supervisor. 

Mayor Alice Patino read the commendations during the City Council meeting before presenting them to the workers as family members, co-workers and local residents watched.

Cossa, a 12-year employee, and Torres, a five-year employee, spotted a young male enter the riverbed Oct. 7, noting his description plus the fact he wore several multicolored bracelets, Police Chief Ralph Martin said.

A few minutes after spotting the man, the two city employees became aware of the community alert message advising local residents of the missing teen — 17-year-old special-needs student Matthew Robert Reish who was last seen leaving the school bus drop-off area at Santa Maria High shortly after 8:30 a.m. Oct. 7. 

The city workers notified a supervisor about possibly seeing the missing teen nearby.

“It would have been easy for you to just continue in your jobs. You could have just turned your heads but you didn’t,” Martin told the men. “We don’t know what we prevented but very well you could have saved this young man’s life, because he could have kept going and going and we never would have found him.”

Their information was critical because the area police were searching upon learning of the missing teen “was nowhere near the landfill,” Martin said. 

The fact the men noted the boy’s multi-colored bracelets helped police verify the identify of the person the city employees had seen in the riverbed.

They also confirmed the person they saw matched the teen’s photo.

Douglas Shearer and two other city employees spotted a missing teenager in the area of the landfill and alerted authorities. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“On behalf of the parents and the Santa Maria Police Department I want to thank you, because it’s citizens like yourself who stepped up and act as the eyes and ears of the police department,” Martin added.

Shearer, a 30-year-employee, was honored for assisting the search in several ways. For instance, he used the available equipment to free a city pickup stuck in the riverbed sand.

He also helped provide water so officers would stay hydrated during the five-hour search.

Martin said the police officers involved in the search informed city leaders about the vital role played by three landfill employees.

“To be honest this was a team effort,” Shearer said on behalf of the three men. “It was great to see the whole thing come together.”

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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