A bad choice made in the midst of a manic phase led to the death last week of lifelong Davis resident James Gomez, his father, John Gomez, said Saturday.
James Gomez, 20, was found dead in Sonoma County on Friday, three days after he fled sheriff’s deputies who had pulled him over for having a broken headlight.
Gomez was discovered by a search party that included family members in a pond surrounded by thick brush near Highway 101 north of Healdsburg.
“He was in the pond, in two feet of water,” his father said. “We were able to pull him out and pull him to shore, and hold him and hug him. He looked like he was sound asleep.”
John Gomez, a longtime member of the Davis Police Department until his retirement in 2010, said his son was diagnosed as bipolar when he was 18 years old and the recent death of his beloved dog seemed to drive him into a manic phase earlier this month.
He believes that contributed to his son’s behavior when sheriff’s deputies pulled him over last week.
“He didn’t have a driver’s license and I’m sure in his manic state he got very concerned,” John Gomez said. “He got very agitated (and) they thought he was under the influence of a controlled substance.”
When deputies tried to pull him from the car, “James made a fatal mistake, and punched the gas,” his father said. “He ran over a deputy’s foot.”
After a short pursuit, deputies found the car crashed near a hairpin turn on Healdsburg Avenue. James Gomez’s girlfriend, Kelsey Stauffer, also of Davis, was arrested at the scene and later released, but James fled into the nearby brush.
“The last Kelsey saw was James running toward this swamp area, stripping off his clothes,” John Gomez said.
Authorities searched the area with dogs and helicopters for several hours but found no sign of James and his family began searching the following day.
“We went out into the field and started searching and calling his name,” John Gomez said. “Because we think he’s still alive and we’re calling him, ‘Come out,’ because we think he’s scared.”
They had fliers made and organized a search party on Facebook.
“We had 35, 40 people show up (Friday) morning in Sonoma County,” John Gomez said. “About two hours into the search, we found him.”
The Santa Rosa Police Department has opened an investigation into what transpired the night James Gomez was pulled over and in the subsequent days leading up to the discovery of his body.
But his father is adamant that his son was not under the influence of any controlled substances as deputies had alleged. Neither, he said, was Stauffer.
Both were, however, very sleep-deprived, he said.
The two had driven up to Fort Bragg on Sunday and John Gomez had grown increasingly concerned about his son’s mental state, particularly given the lengthy, rambling text messages he was sending.
John Gomez contacted the Fort Bragg police, requesting that they look for his son.
“I told them that he’s manic, he needs to be taken into custody, he’s talking about apocalyptic events,” John Gomez said. “Two hours later, they found him and called and said, ‘He’s not a danger to himself or others. He’s upset and agitated, but there’s nothing we can do.’ ”
“I said, ‘I’m his father, he’s bipolar, I need him placed on a hold.’ The sergeant said, ‘I can’t do that,’ ” John Gomez said.
Some time after that, Stauffer called James Gomez’s mother, Laura Blyth of Davis, and asked her to come get them, that she was scared, John Gomez said.
Blyth headed to Fort Bragg, but by the time she got there, the pair had left, headed to James’ grandmother’s house in Napa, his father said.
However, they were pulled over by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies before they got there.
James Gomez, who his dad said attended Davis High School before graduating from King High School, was an avid hockey player who also loved skateboarding and spending time outdoors.
He had been taking classes at Sacramento City College and living at his mom’s house in Davis.
“He had so many friends,” John Gomez said. “He was such a good kid. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
Even when he was hospitalized following the bipolar diagnosis, his dad said, “he made a thousand friends. Everybody wanted to be with him.
“I’m lucky I had the last two years of a really positive relationship with him.”
In addition to his parents, James Gomez is survived by his sister, Sara, and brother, Ryan.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy