SANTA CRUZ - After three weeks of searches on the sides of Highway 101 and surrounding roads in five counties, Taylor Flynn has not given up hope of finding his mother.
Flynn, the 49-year-old publisher of the Tahoe Mountain News in South Lake Tahoe, was one of the last people to see 70-year-old Deanna Brooks before her disappearance Aug. 24. He wrote a column in his paper this week that described parts of two searches he has made - along with crisscrossing searches made by his older brother and younger sister. They flew from their homes in Georgia and New York, respectively.
Brooks, who lives on Berkeley Way in Santa Cruz, had planned a trip on Aug. 24 to see her mother, Nan, for her 90th birthday in San Diego.
She usually took Highway 101, but she failed to arrive in San Diego. She was reported missing Aug. 26.
Flynn described Brooks as a "loving, with-it grandmother of eight who had been planning this trip for weeks." She is 70 but seems younger and does not have dementia, Flynn said.
"My mind's always been that she fell asleep and drove off the side of the road," he said Thursday.
Now, he and other family members don't know what to think.
In his column "We're still looking for you, mom," Flynn described how his heart dropped on Sept. 7 when he learned that a body had been found near highways 101 and 156 outside Aromas.
He called it "one of the worst nights of my life," in part because it was close to his mother's intended route. Flynn and his wife watched a video from a television news website "in horror."
Deputies did not release the name, age or gender of the victim that day, but Flynn said he reached a San Benito County deputy about midnight requesting information.
"I could hear myself rattle off mom's statistics in a monotone (voice). Then, Sgt. Burbank replied ever so clearly, 'I cannot tell you anything about the investigation, except that it is definitely not your mother.'"
woman was in her 20s or 30s and of Asian descent, deputies later said.
Thursday, Flynn said some days hit him harder than others.
Although he lives in South Lake Tahoe, he visited Brooks in Santa Cruz the week of her disappearance.
They had dinner at a Chinese restaurant on Pacific Avenue on Aug. 22. The next night, a Thursday, Flynn stopped by her house on Berkeley Way.
"She was getting ready for this trip for a while," Flynn said. "She seemed a little stressed and had this list of things to do."
They were tasks like fixing her printer - which he did so she could finish a greeting card job. Flynn said he also checked the oil on Brooks' gold, 2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser. Flynn left that night.
Friends, family and coworkers of Deanna Brooks gather outside Brooks workplace at Attilia s Antiques for a candlelight vigil on Sept. 1. Brooks has been missing since Aug. 24. (Taylor Flynn/Contributed)
11:30 a.m. the next day - a Friday - Brooks and a friend had a phone conversation about the greeting card job. Brooks said she would leave for San Diego soon.
Authorities said the last person to see Brooks was a neighbor who feeds Brooks' cat.
She said she saw Brooks about 5:30 p.m. that day with her car in the driveway. Then the car was gone.
Brooks' mother, who has Alzheimer's, did not tell her family that Brooks had not arrived in San Diego until Aug. 26.
Flynn had the impression that the California Highway Patrol and other agencies would conduct a search beyond the standard "be on the lookout" police radio broadcast of Brooks and her car.
He said he now realized that his mother is one of thousands of missing people. There were about 35,000 adults reported missing in California in 2011, according to the state Department of Justice.
"Now I'm kicking myself," Flynn said. He said he would have tried sooner to organize an air search - although police have said those searches are often futile. Flynn's older brother, Stirling Flynn, has been scouring turnouts and stores along Highway 101 for weeks. He spread the word to radio and TV outlets along the Central Coast.
Their sister, Sarah VanderBeets, also has driven with him and helped search Brooks' house.
Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark has called the case perplexing.
"There's no starting point other than her house," Clark said last week.
"We all really want to find her alive. It's very frustrating."
Police have searched her house and found it in order and few clues. Police tried to track Brooks' cellphone's signal, but it has not been used since the day of her disappearance, Clark said.
Authorities said her bank account has been idle since Aug. 23, whsn she withdrew an amount of cash consistent with the trip.
Foul play is not suspected, police said.
Brooks is a lifelong artist who once designed hand-drawn advertisements for department stores such as Bullocks and Gottschalks, her family said. Her art and advertising expertise were "instrumental" in starting the Tahoe Mountain News in 1994, Taylor Flynn said. Brooks worked for the Santa Cruz Sentinel in the advertising department until the early 2000s.
At Attilia's Antiques, where Brooks was an antique dealer on Soquel Drive, co-worker Mary Milligan said they have been distributing fliers with Brooks' case information.
They had a candlelight vigil at the shop on Sept. 1 and said prayers for her.
Milligan said she said she missed having lunch with Brooks and her pleasant nature.
"She's a very friendly lady, very nice and very sweet. I don't think anyone can say a bad thing about her," Milligan said Thursday.
"We keep hoping for the best, but it's been three weeks," Milligan said. "Everyone here is still very much concerned."
Santa Cruz police ask anyone with information to call investigations at 420-5820, the anonymous tip line at 420-5995 or leave a tip at www.santacruzpolice.com or by the mobile application at http://m.santacruzpolice.com.
Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter on Twitter: @sbaxter--sc
Taylor Flynn column -
©2012 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)
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