Friend told officials camper had died - Hi-Desert Star: News

Friend told officials camper had died

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Posted: Tuesday, August 3, 2004 12:00 am

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK - During the search for Eric Sears at Jumbo Rock Campground here, his fellow camper Ben Fogelstrom told officials he knew Sears was dead because he had found his friend face-down with no pulse in their tent, an affidavit from an investigating officer reveals.

Sears, a 17-year-old from Carlsbad, was reported missing from the Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park on July 15. His body was located by a searcher on July 23 about two and a half miles from where Sears went missing.

Fogelstrom said during their stay at Jumbo Rocks he and Sears drank a tea made from jimson weed, a poisonous plant which can cause hallucinations, according to the affidavit, which was released this week.

The day after they arrived at the campground, Fogelstrom asked nearby campers to drive him to a ranger station to report that Sears was missing; he was dressed only in his boxer shorts and had no explanation where the rest of his clothing was, the court document states.

Ben Fogelstrom and his father, Joseph Fogelstrom, were told by officials they could not assist with the search for Sears and were not allowed to enter the search perimeter. But the following day, Joseph Fogelstrom gained entry to the perimeter by saying he was a search member, said Riverside County sheriff's investigator Gary LeClair.

As Fogelstrom was being escorted out of the search area, he walked by Sears' truck, still at the campsite, and took a Bowie-type knife from inside the truck, according to the affidavit.

Ben Fogelstrom was asked to take a polygraph test and provided several conflicting statements about the events surrounding Sears' disappearance.

During the test, Fogelstrom said that while hallucinating after taking the jimson weed, he spoke to a bush, an Indian and possibly Sears, but he could not recall if Sears was a hallucination or reality, said LeClair.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Sgt. Jerry Tesler, who monitored the polygraph test, said Fogelstrom could provide accurate information about trivial details but said he could not recollect the important details of where and when he last saw Sears, Tesler reported to LeClair.

When Fogelstrom was questioned about the knife, Fogelstrom said he wanted the knife because it had a lot of sentimental value, but he was unable to recall why the knife had sentimental value, the affidavit stated.

The Riverside County coroner department has not confirmed Sears' exact cause of death, but reports there was no obvious signs of trauma. They are continuing to conduct additional tests to reveal the cause of death, according to a sheriff's news release.

Waking up to see body

Later during the polygraph test, Fogelstrom changed his previous statement that he was aware that Sears was dead and then he began to cry, according to LeClair.

Fogelstrom then told officials that he and Sears had an argument because the keys to Sears' truck were missing. He said he remembered waking up in the tent and seeing Sears had turned blue and fallen face-down inside the tent, stated LeClair.

Fogelstrom said he checked Sears' pulse and couldn't find one, so he carried Sears to a toilet and placed him inside, stated in the affidavit.

After making that statement, he asked to speak with his mother who was waiting in another room. Tesler told Fogelstrom's mother the admissions he made, according to LeClair.

Fogelstrom told his mother he was forced to make those statements by the police.

"That's not where I put him," Fogelstrom told his mother.

LeClair wrote the affidavit as part of his request for permission to search Fogelstroms' house for evidence of murder, he states in a declaration before the document.

Riverside County sheriff's officers searched the Carlsbad house July 22. Items taken from the residence for evidence included computers, a white colored cloth with possible blood stains on it, several apology letters, a Bowie-type knife, a bedroom door, a pipe and an empty baggie, according to the property report by the sheriff's department.

Joseph Fogelstrom had no criminal history, but Ben Fogelstrom has been a suspect in a burglary and has been arrested for driving under the influence, according to the affidavit.

The sheriff's department is calling him a person of interest, not a suspect, in the investigation.

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