Body of Ukiah woman recovered from flood-trapped vehicle outside Forestville
Daphne Fontino was on a 911 call with an emergency Sonoma County dispatcher Tuesday morning, reporting that water was rising in her vehicle on Trenton-Healdsburg Road, east of Forestville.
Then the call dropped.
Sheriff’s dispatchers immediately tried to call her back.
They called her multiple times. She never picked up.
A rescue team arrived with two helicopters and a boat and searched the area until sunset, when darkness made it too dangerous to continue until morning.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday, the submerged vehicle was found in a vineyard 100 yards off Trenton-Healdsburg Road. Inside was the body of Fontino, a 43-year-old from Ukiah.
“My heart is saddened and it is broken,” Fontino’s husband, Marc Fontino, told The Press Democrat on Wednesday.
A mother of three children and one step-child, she was among at least four people whose deaths have been attributed to a series of pounding storms in Sonoma and Mendocino counties since last week.
Susan Lee Stever, 68, of Fort Bragg, was killed early Monday when a tree fell on her home as she slept.
“The belief is the weather conditions were a contributing if not sole cause of the tree’s fall,” Mendocino County Sheriff’s Capt. Gregory Van Patten said.
Aeon Tocchini, 2, was killed Jan. 4 when a tree fell on his Occidental home, while Edgar Ulysses Castillo, 37, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. contracted worker was killed Saturday when his truck crashed along Mountain View Road in Manchester.
Across California, at least 18 deaths have been linked to the storms, making it one of the state’s deadliest recent disasters, according to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office also reported the deaths of two people found in Sea Ranch after a tree fell across part of a Spinnaker Close house, on the north Sonoma Coast.
But Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Dillion, an agency spokesman, said it appeared the fatalities were unrelated to the downed tree. He said there had been no indication of foul play. He had no other information to release Wednesday.
Tuesday morning trip
Daphne Fontino was a driver for North Bay Transit and was on her way Tuesday morning to Graton to pick up a client that needed to get to Redwood City, south of San Francisco, her husband said.
About two hours after she left, Marc Fontino said he received a call from investigators. They said his wife had been in an accident and they were looking for her.
He wanted to help rescue her. He asked where they were searching but they couldn’t tell him.
The Sonoma County Fire District sent its swift water rescue gear about 10:10 a.m. Tuesday, according to Karen Hancock, a spokesperson for the agency.
Crews on foot and in boats braved the rushing floodwaters of Mark West Creek, probing and peering into its depths for any sign of the reported vehicle.
The Sheriff’s Office helicopter, Henry 1, flew overhead and scanned the waters.
Authorities also attempted to reverse the 911 call to find the exact location of the vehicle and tried to contact the caller. The search was called off at sunset.
“We were never able to find any sign of a vehicle in water,” Hancock said.
Sheriff’s and fire crews returned to the area Wednesday morning, when floodwaters had calmed and subsided slightly. The team located the vehicle in about 8-10 feet of floodwater at 7:46 a.m. about 100 yards off Trenton-Healdsburg Road in a vineyard, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
A deputy dove into the water, and determined the car was occupied. Fontino’s body was found.
The team then worked to bring her to the surface, according to the release. Fontino was later identified as the victim in a Wednesday afternoon news release.
Investigators are still trying to figure out how her vehicle ended up stranded and submerged on Trenton-Healdsburg Road, which was previously shown on a county website as having been closed Tuesday morning due to storm issues.
The area is a chronic flooding spot, where a swollen Mark West Creek backs up at its confluence with the Russian River.
There is no estimation on when the car will be removed, Dillion said.
‘Cared about everybody’
Daphne and Marc Fontino were married 15 years ago on Dec. 30. They had planned to renew their vows Jan. 21 at Faith Lutheran Church in Ukiah.
Marc Fontino is moving forward with the ceremony, even in the wake of his wife’s death.
“I got to keep her spirit alive,” he told The Press Democrat. “Her spirit is still here with me.”
Daphne played the piano and liked to read romance novels.
Every Sunday she went to church before having date night with her husband, which typically consisted of dinner and movie.
She was personable and enjoyed talking to people to the point she worked as a DoorDash driver for the fun of meeting people.
“She just went out of her way to make sure she said hi to everybody that she saw,” said one of her neighbors, Tim Schmadeke. “She was just genuinely a really nice person that cared about everybody.”
Before she left on Tuesday morning, Marc Fontino said he sang two Smokey Robinson songs, including “Just to See Her.”
“Just to see her, just to touch her,” he sang. “Just to hold her in my arms again one more time.”
Funeral arrangements are pending, and loved ones launched a GoFundMe fundraiser to cover expenses.
“It is going to take me a long time to heal and process this,” Fontino said. “She meant the world to me.”
Staff Writer Mary Callahan contributed to this story.
You can reach Staff Writer Madison Smalstig at email@example.com. On Twitter @madi.smals.
You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at 707-521-5390 or firstname.lastname@example.org.