Family friends have joined Alameda County Sheriff’s Department search teams to help solve the mysterious disappearance of Eric Wright, a former U.S. Navy firefighter and avid fisherman who is presumed to have drowned in Bethany Reservoir on Dec. 23.
On the morning of his disappearance, Wright, 32, was like a kid on Christmas, his wife, Salina Wright, said Thursday.
He was excited to try his new 12-foot aluminum fishing boat, complete with a trolling motor, with his father-in-law. The air was cool that morning, so Wright layered his clothes and pulled on his heavy work boots before he stepped into the garage.
Before he left, he peeked around the hallway corner toward the kitchen to yell goodbye to his wife.
"Let me give you a kiss," Salina Wright shouted back.
She left her dishes in the sink, dripping soapy water across the carpet as she ran to him as if she were a new bride.
"I’ll be right back," he told her.
Twelve hours later, at 9 p.m., Salina Wright lay on the couch growing worried and angry that she hadn’t heard from her husband or father. Then she spotted her father’s truck, followed by a police car, slowly driving toward their south Tracy home.
"I knew something was wrong," she said. "I lost it."
She said her father, whom she declined to name without his permission, told her that Eric Wright had dropped him off at the dock to get the truck at the end of the fishing day. The older man said he took fishing equipment back to the truck, including Wright’s bag, and went to the rest room. Meanwhile, Wright stayed in the boat, telling him he’d take the craft for a spin near the dock while he waited.
The father-in-law later told family members that when he returned, the boat was gone. He looked over the lake with a pair of binoculars and saw that the boat had capsized and drifted back into the middle of the lake, possibly pushed by strong wind.
Alameda County sheriff’s deputies searched the banks of the small lake just west of Tracy with three helicopters and dive teams for 24 hours after Eric Wright was reported missing, said sheriff’s spokesman J.D. Nelson.
Rescue teams are still doing daily spot checks with a California Highway Patrol helicopter and search boats.
"Hopefully, we’ll get some good news here soon," Nelson said.
Nelson added that, as in any disappearance, foul play has not been ruled out, but nothing suggests that Wright was murdered or committed suicide or ran off. Nelson said the two men had some alcohol to drink, but not in excess.
Meanwhile, Robert "Ranger" Silva, a fishing buddy and friend of Wright, has stood watch along the reservoir’s shore and surveyed the lake from his boat each day for eight to 10 hours at a time, equipped with a telescope. His depth finder indicates that the reservoir reaches 80 feet deep with a heavily vegetated floor.
Silva, a 65-year-old U.S. Army veteran, said his policy has always been that everybody comes home. He expects to continue his watch over the next few days, despite incoming storms that began to drop rain Thursday.
"I’m not quitting until he’s home," Silva said.
Wright has always been drawn to the water. He moved his family to San Diego in the late 1990s while he served four years as a firefighter in the U.S. Navy. Photo albums in the family’s living room are filled with pictures of the family jumping off fishing boats on nearby reservoirs, bodysurfing
on waves in Hawaii and waterskiing at their favorite summer destination, Lake Don Pablo, near Moccasin.
The family has watched every episode of "Man vs. Wild" on the Discovery Channel, which puts the star of the show in dangerous situations to teach viewers how to survive out of doors.
"He was a strong swimmer," Silva said of Eric. "He was healthy as a horse, that kid."
The Wrights and their two sons, Jacob, 11, and Matthew, 5, moved to Tracy from San Jose five years ago and had just celebrated their first year in their own house, which is around the corner from Salina Wright’s parents’ home at the southern end of town.
Eric Wright continued to commute to his job as a delivery driver for Oroweat’s San Jose bakery. On his days off, he would go fishing, usually at the California Aqueduct.
Salina Wright gathered up the nerve to visit Bethany Reservoir Monday, where she and her husband used to flip through pages of novels under the trees while they waited for a bite on the fishing line. She said the visit made his disappearance seem even more of a mystery.
"It doesn’t make sense how he can disappear so fast," Salina Wright said. "We’re waiting for a miracle."
At a glance
A fund for the
benefit of the Wright family at Tracy’s Bank of Stockton, 1175 N. Tracy Blvd.
For information: 820-2000.