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Police Search for Missing Staunton Man - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Police Search for Missing Staunton Man

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It is a race against the clock for search teams in Augusta County.  They are looking for a hiker who has not been seen since Monday, and may have spent all week in the frigid temperatures and rough terrain of Shenandoah Mountain.

Returning to a remote hiking trail to find a missing cellphone may have been a fateful decision for 60-year-old Robert Ray Fitzgerald.  Now ground teams, tracking dogs and aircraft from all over the state are working to find the Staunton man, hopefully safe and sound.

Search teams are trying to retrace Fitzgerald's steps along the Confederate Breastworks Trail on Shenandoah Mountain.  Fitzgerald joined a friend there Sunday for a three-mile hike.

Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher said, "He realized at some point Sunday that he lost his cellphone, and he assumed it was on the trail.  Our estimation is he came back Monday to look for his cellphone, and that's the last that anyone has heard or seen him."

Another hiker did find Fitzgerald's phone, but didn't make contact with it until Tuesday.  The next day Fitzgerald's boss reported he didn't show up for work.  Then on Thursday afternoon, his car was spotted back at the mountaintop trailhead.

"Numerous search teams right now working the trails," Fisher said.  "We have some dog teams working both sides of the trail, down the mountain."

Billy Chrimes with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said, "Typically with hikers we don't see that they leave the trails by very far, or if they do, they tend to go to drainages and things like that.  So those are the areas that we are concentrating on the most."

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is coordinating the efforts of some 40 people and tracking dogs from all over the commonwealth.  But they're starting at least three days after Fitzgerald's disappearance.

"The weather's not been in his favor if he's still out there, and that's why we're trying to get out and search these areas really quickly...and hopefully get some good resolve to this," said Chrimes. 

The sheriff has requested that hikers and hunters avoid that search area, near the Augusta-Highland County line.  He says the scents from additional people can hinder the efforts of tracking dogs.

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