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Search continues for missing woman

William Ferchland, Appeal News Service

Authorities continued searching Thursday in Lake Tahoe for a 50-year-old middle school teacher who was part of a group of nine people thrown from a rented ski boat when it hit choppy waters.

Charles August Sauer Jr., 53, husband of missing Jan Sauer, died from an apparent drowning after the Wednesday boating accident. He was a consultant. Jan Sauer is a special-education teacher in Menlo Park, Calif. The couple, who have two children that survived the accident, are from San Carlos, Calif.

Seven survived and were treated at Barton Memorial Hospital for various stages of hypothermia. Six were released later Wednesday, but one remained at the hospital Thursday, said Linda Thompson, hospital spokeswoman.

One of the survivors, Ashley Lawrence, is a University of California at Davis paddle crew member who swam to the shore near Cave Rock. She told family members the boat flipped after hitting a wake.

“She said they hit the wake, and it took water on board and before they could do anything about it, they hit another wake,” said John McCrary, the woman’s stepfather.

McCrary said Lawrence told him how she flew out of the boat, and at one point was underneath it. With a gash on her arm, she then swam for shore about a mile away.

Authorities searched for Jan Sauer until midnight Wednesday, while some remained until 4 a.m., said Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini. The search resumed at 6 a.m. Thursday. Four search boats from different agencies were at risk of being called off late Thursday afternoon due to high winds.

Pierini also ordered a foot search from Cave Rock, located on Lake Tahoe’s east shore, to a few miles north.

“We’re doing everything we can,” he said. “It’s just we don’t know what actually happened … if she went to shore or if she went under.”

The search continued through the night along the shoreline and is expected to continue early today.

Pierini said a person could survive between 30 minutes to 40 hours before dying from hypothermia.

A personal flotation device was found near Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, expanding the search area several miles. Authorities could not confirm if it was a PFD from the overturned vessel.

On the boat were the Sauers’ children, the Uris and Daria Finstead family and Lawrence. The nine were at South Lake Tahoe taking a yearly vacation, which began last Friday, McCrary said.

They rented a boat for four hours at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday and were overheard saying they wanted to go to Emerald Bay, said Lee Schmidt, owner of High Sierra Water Ski School, which rented the boat.

The same time the boat was to return, the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District received a 911 about the overturned boat.

A 7-year-old boy on Cave Rock spotted the boat and told his mother, who dialed 911 on her cell phone.

U.S. Coast Guard boats brought three people to shore, including Charles Sauer. The boats returned to the middle of the lake to search for Jan Sauer, presumed to be wearing a life preserver.

None of the nine were wearing PFDs at the time of the accident, but may have put them on after the boat overturned, said Pete Van Arnum, a detective coroner with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department.

Charles Sauer was found unconscious with a PFD hanging on his right arm, Van Arnum said.

Schmidt said the boat was equipped with PFDs for everyone and had an air horn, paddle and fire extinguishers. Douglas County authorities said an 8-foot to 10-foot rope was wrapped around the boat’s motor.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation and being handled by the Nevada Division of Wildlife.

Wind speed was recorded at 15 to 20 mph with gusts that could have transformed the 68-degree lake into a rough sea, officials said.

The rental boat is used for sightseeing and touring, not water skiing or wake boarding, and can handle any lake conditions, Schmidt said.