Yard search finds no body in 11-year-old case
Ed Souza/Staff The backyard of this house on East Branch Street in Arroyo Grande was the focus of a dig Tuesday where searchers hoped to find evidence in the disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristen Smart.

Eleven years after Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart disappeared, her family has finally ruled out one of the long-rumored locations of her body.

Officials involved in a lawsuit between the Smart family and the family of Paul Flores 7 the last person known to have seen Smart on May 25, 1996 7 spent Tuesday afternoon searching the backyard of an Arroyo Grande home for evidence of her whereabouts.

Nothing turned up in the search, said Denise Smart, Kristin/s mother, from her home in Stockton.

&#8220We have spent 11 years trying to eliminate that home as a possible resting place for Kristin,C she said. … &#8220At this point we are 90- to 95-percent sure she is not there.C

Over the years, there has been speculation that Kristin Smart/s body was buried in the backyard of the Flores home in the 500 block of East Branch Street, and a lawsuit filed about a year ago by Susan Flores against the Smarts created an opportunity to search the yard.

Susan Flores, who lives in the Branch Street house, is Paul Flores/ mother.

The search was conducted as part of Flores/ civil suit and did not involve police or the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff/s Department, said Mark Connely, the Smarts/ attorney in the suit.

About five years ago, the Smarts filed a wrongful death suit against Paul Flores, but that case has different attorneys and is still pending.

Tuesday/s search came as part of the discovery proceedings in the lawsuit filed by Susan Flores, Connely said.

Jeffry Radding, Flores/ attorney, had no comment about the search or the case when reached at his San Luis Obispo office Tuesday evening.

A preliminary search in 2000 at the property was inconclusive, Denise Smart said. But when the Flores lawsuit was filed, attorneys negotiated an agreement for a second investigation of the backyard. Ground-penetrating radar was brought in about seven weeks ago, she added.

The radar search had &#8220compelling findings,C Denise Smart said, so Tuesday/s dig was negotiated.

However, the digging found no evidence to indicate that Smart was buried there, Connely said.

&#8220As much as we wanted this nightmare to end today, we were able to eliminate something that has been hanging over our heads for 11 years,C Denise Smart said.

She said she is grateful to the attorneys, on both sides, for being able to agree on Tuesday/s search.

There is &#8220a sense of relief that this is crossed off,C she added.

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Kristin Smart was 19 years old when she disappeared in 1996. She was last seen after midnight walking with Paul Flores back to campus after an off-campus party.

Flores, also 19 at the time, told law enforcement that he and Smart parted ways near his dorm and that she returned to her room in Muir Hall alone.

When a grand jury was convened in the case in October 1996, Flores refused to answer questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He has never been charged in the case.

In 2001, a San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judge declared Smart dead, which allowed her family to pursue a wrongful-death lawsuit. That case is held up in San Luis Obispo County court awaiting the release of information from the county sheriff/s office.

The department has not released that information because investigators still consider the disappearance an active criminal case.

Meanwhile, Paul Flores has had other run-ins with the law.

Flores has three drunken-driving convictions and a probation violation since Smart/s disappearance. He served time in 2000 at Santa Barbara County Jail for driving drunk in Santa Maria, and was sentenced again to county jail for drinking while on probation.

In December 2005, he was again stopped for drunken driving in Los Angeles County.

The Web site www.sonof

susan.com, which has closely chronicled the Smart case and Flores/ legal troubles, reports that Flores was convicted this year of a fourth DUI in Los Angeles County.

A search of jail records shows a Paul Ruben Flores, 30, arrested in Los Angeles County for felony DUI on Feb. 28.

Flores was released April 26, said Los Angeles County Sheriff/s Deputy Dana Camarillo.

Malia Spencer can be reached at 739-2219 or mspencer@santa

mariatimes.com. Staff writer Luis Ernesto Gomez contributed to this report.

May 23, 2007

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