Robot may have spotted missing Mendocino County fisherman

There may be a break in the month-long search for a missing fisherman in Mendocino County. 

Vincent Soto, 40, drowned with his father in a boating accident on Lake Mendocino, north of Ukiah.  

On Wednesday, a specialized robot may have detected his body at the lake bottom, but only after water releases from the Coyote Valley Dam were reduced dramatically. 

For Soto's loved ones, a non-stop vigil at the lake may finally come to an end. 

"They were inseparable, they worked together, they were best friends," said Daniel Garcia, describing his brother Vince, and Vince's dad, Carlos, 62. 

On June 11, the two went fishing off an 18-foot boat, something they often did. 

The family suspects Carlos suffered a heart attack or stroke, in the boat or in the water. 

"We believe my brother who wasn't really a strong swimmer himself tried to save his dad and ended up drowning too," said Garcia.  

The same day, the elder man's body was found near the drifting boat.

But in 18 days of searching over one month's time, an intense search has not turned up his son. 

A few dozen loved ones are camped at the boat ramp at the southern end of the lake, determined to stay until Vincent is found. 

Their campfire is kept lit around the clock, as a symbol of hope, and the light Vincent brought to their lives. 

"We all gravitate here because we know he's here," said Garcia, "and we tell stories and support each other and laugh, we're mourning together as a family." 

Wednesday's development came courtesy of the Marin County Sheriff's Department, which sent its dive team and deep water robot. 

It is tethered to a boat, and equipped with lights, camera, and sonar.  

"The sonar showed us an object on the lake floor that we want to explore further," Mendocino County Sheriff's Lt. Shannon Barney told KTVU. 
The object, 112 feet underwater at the base of the dam, could not be seen clearly because of underwater turbulence and silt. 

But the challenging dive wouldn't have even been possible if not for an unusual  partnership between government agencies and water managers. 

They agreed to cut flows from the dam from a norm of 135 cubic feet per second to only 10 cfs so water would be calmer beneath the surface. 

The gradual reduction over three days dropped the depth of the Russian River by a few feet, as it runs south to Healdsburg.

Such adjustments are rarely made, and usually only for maintenance.

Next, the agencies will be asked to shut the dam down completely so divers from the Los Angeles

Sheriff's Department can recover the object.  

"Their team can dive to a depth of 200 feet," said Lt. Barney, "and our request will be that the dam go to a zero flow for a short time, a few hours, so we can get in and get it done."   

Soto's grieving family feels certain the object at the bottom of the dam is his remains. 

Heartbreaking as that is, they say will be relieved to lay him to rest- a man they describe as outgoing, loyal, and hard-working. 

"It really is a blessing to see all these agencies work together to find my brother and bring my family some closure," said Garcia, gratefully. 

Loved ones say the campfire they maintain won't go out until the inseparable father and son, are together again. 

"Life is sacred as a whole, and his body is part of his life, and we want to honor that," said Garcia.
The family also expresses appreciation for the community and tribal support it has received, with volunteers helping search and donors bring food and firewood to the vigil.   

Vince Soto is survived by his mother, seven siblings and a large extended family.