Crew member dies while searching for missing California hiker, community mourns

MOUNT BALDY, Calif. -- The community is continuing to mourn a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue crew member who died on duty Saturday during a sweeping search for a missing hiker on Mount Baldy.

A memorial for Timothy Staples continued to grow Sunday at Damien High School in La Verne where he taught. The 32-year-old lost his life when he got separated from his partner and fell down an ice chute while looking for 52-year-old Sreenivas "Sree" Mokkapati who has been missing for one week.

Dozens of Mokkapati's family and friends visited the memorial to pay tribute to Staples.

"I didn't expect it to pan out into some sort of tragic ending for one of the volunteers that we so dearly respect," said Mokkapati's son, Shravan.

A popular teacher and track coach, students and staff say Staples was dedicated to his job and to volunteering his time with the department.

"He loved it. It was his sport among anything, other than track and field. He loved climbing the mountains and looking for lost people," said Principal Merritt Hemenway.

Search and rescue crew member found dead amid search for missing Irvine hiker in Mount Baldy
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The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department says a Search and Rescue team member was found dead on the ice and snow amid a sweeping search of Mount Baldy for a missing Irvine hiker.



Those close to Staples say he had just married his wife, who also teaches at the school, six months ago.

"We're rising up to be that light in the middle of darkness and I think that's what Tim would want because he was always that torch of light for other people who get lost and we really need to stick together to be that light," said Michelle Walsh, a fellow volunteer with the West Valley Search and Rescue.

The nine-year veteran with the department was experienced with extensive training, authorities said, but investigators are working to figure out exactly what happened.

San Bernardino authorities have not decided if and when they will resume search efforts for Mokkapati which were suspended as operations are "re-evaluated."
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