Hours before his wife would call police to report her husband and son missing, Chandler lawyer Conrad Hernandez told a Yavapai County dispatcher Friday he had run off Interstate 17 in the mountains north of Phoenix.
He said during the 911 call that he was severely injured, according to a Chandler police report. He told the dispatcher he couldn’t move and was stranded with his 7-year-old son, Max, outside his wrecked Mazda 3, five miles south of the Sunset Point Rest Area.
But help did not come until Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday, Chandler Officer Michael Sippitka was investigating the disappearance of the father and son when he heard about the 911 call. He alerted the state Department of Public Safety and asked it to dispatch a helicopter to search for Hernandez. The agency initially said it couldn’t because its Flagstaff helicopters were out of service, but later sent a helicopter out of Kingman, Sippitka’s report said.
At 4:55 p.m. Sunday, the lifeless bodies of Hernandez and his son were found outside their vehicle at the bottom of a 200-foot ravine near Black Canyon City. The police report said the vehicle had flipped over several times, throwing both of them from the car.
DPS officials declined to comment on the account in the Chandler police report, saying only that the two bodies had been removed from the ravine and taken to the Yavapai County medical examiner. The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it received the 911 call Friday afternoon, but referred other questions to DPS.
Chandler police also said they verified the 911 call through Hernandez’s cellphone records. Several people called Hernandez after the crash, but, based on the cellphone records, it wasn’t clear if he answered any of the calls or if his voicemail picked them up.
DPS also declined Monday to answer other questions about the case. It’s not clear whether the agency had attempted to locate the red Mazda 3 on Friday, and it is also unclear when Hernandez and his son died.
But those aren’t the only mysteries in the case.
No one is certain where the father and son were headed on a Friday afternoon when Max was supposed to be in school and his father was scheduled to be in a meeting with his wife and another lawyer to go over documents related to the IRS.
Hernandez’s wife, Karen Maile Hernandez, said her husband never appeared for the 10 a.m. meeting. When she called Chrysalis Academy, a school for autistic children that Max attended, teachers there said her husband had called in that morning to say Max was sick.
Karen filed a missing persons report with Chandler police shortly before 4 p.m. Friday. She didn’t know her husband had called 911 three hours earlier.
Karen initially told police she didn’t think her husband would hurt Max, and that although he had seemed depressed recently about financial problems, there was no talk of suicide.
But two family friends told officers that Conrad had talked about how much better Karen would be without him and that he had thoughts of suicide. One friend said he asked to borrow $1,700 and expressed concern over financial difficulties.
Karen told police he had concocted an elaborate suicide plan two years earlier, when he planned to jump off a second-story balcony at St. James Theatre in New York City. He was found in New York unharmed.
When Conrad went missing Friday, friends and family began calling hotels in the Grand Canyon, a regular sanctuary for him. They sent out pleas on Facebook and MySpace. Police began working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Then, late Sunday afternoon, a DPS worker told the Chandler officer that the red Mazda had been found.
The Chrysalis Academy in Tempe canceled classes Monday so that parents and staff members could have time to grieve and talk to their children about Max’s death.
“You have to understand that these kids with autism or any special needs have to be handled differently,” said De Freedman, president of the Chrysalis Academy Parents Association.
“Max was an amazing kid,” said Freedman, who had known the boy for the past three years. “He was beloved. He had an infectious smile and a sparkling personality.”
The school and parents’ group planned a candlelight vigil Monday night for Max.