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Body of missing Santa Ana College student found near Fullerton creek

December 15, 2009 | 12:53 pm

Fullerton police said they have found near a creek bed the body of a 21-year-old Santa Ana College student who vanished over the weekend while taking his girlfriend's dog for a walk.

The remote area where the body of James Patrick Wernke was found this morning was heavily wooded, and the creek could have been overflowing from recent heavy rains, said Lt. Alex Bastreri of the Fullerton Police Department.

"There is nothing suspicious" Bastreri said.

Police were still waiting for the Orange County coroner's office to pick up the body and conduct a proper identification.

Family, friends and authorities had been searching frantically for Wernke, who was last seen Saturday afternoon in the 3000 block of Sunnywood Drive in Fullerton, walking his girlfriend's yellow Labrador retriever, Kealie.

Earlier today, before the discovery, Wernke’s girlfriend, Sami Bock, was at a loss for words. She could not comprehend how her boyfriend of three years vanished.

“This isn’t like him at all, he wouldn’t do something like this,” Bock said, the sound of tears often muffling the phone. “He’s very outgoing … very charismatic. He’s not going to just go on a walk and disappear.”

Bock, 20, is attending Long Island University in Brooklyn and said the last time she heard from Wernke was at 1:40 p.m. Saturday, and the message was nothing out the ordinary. She flew in last night from New York and said she thinks being around family will be good for her.

She said Wernke, a pitcher for the Santa Ana College baseball team, was working toward a full athletic scholarship to Cal State Long Beach.

“I don’t know… maybe he struggled. …He’s out there with the dog,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “Maybe something took a toll on him, and he’s just out there – I don’t know.”

Bock said they would spend weekends talking to each other on Skype, an online video conferencing site. She said he wasn’t the type to go out and party and drink.

Bob Wernke, James Wernke's father, said he and his wife last heard from their son about 1:15 p.m. Saturday and after a number of unreturned text messages, they began to worry. Then they received a phone call from Diana Bock, Sami’s mother, that she was calling the police to report him missing.

The Wernkes immediately flew from their Colorado home to Fullerton. Because of James Wernke's stature, he stood 6-feet-2 and weighed about 190 pounds, Bob Wernke said he had played every scenario in his head as to what could have happened to his son but “nothing works.”

“We’re ruling out foul play; it would take quite a lot of guys to take him down," said Bob Wernke, in a telephone interview before the discovery. "Maybe he slipped in the wet rain and banged his head or something. What makes this really bizarre to me is that he’s grown up in this area. He’s not lost.”

But, he continued, “If he fell and was hurt, we would have found him by now, or at least the dog. We’re beside ourselves.”

Bloodhounds traced a scent to a nearby 7-Eleven store about a mile away before losing it near Imperial Highway. The Labrador, who is microchipped, hasn’t been located, Bastreri said.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

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