San Diego

Meth Found in System of Rainbow Creek Drowning Victim, 73: Autopsy

On Jan. 22, Roland Phillips, 73, and Phillip Campbell, 5, were driving to Riverside, California, amid a series of powerful storms, and their car was swept into a creek in Rainbow

A Fallbrook man who drowned along with a 5-year-old boy when their car was swept into a rain-swollen creek in Southern California had methamphetamine in his system at the time of the accident, an autopsy report confirms.

The report, completed by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s (ME) office and obtained by NBC 7 on Tuesday, states that contributing factors to 73-old-year-old Roland Phillip’s death included “alcohol and methamphetamine use, and hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease,” including a slightly enlarged heart.

The toxicology portion of the report states that samples of Roland’s blood, urine and gastric contents were tested and yielded positive for a small level of alcohol and 1.8 milligrams of methamphetamine per liter.

Phillip’s cause of death was drowning, due to his vehicle possible overturning into the overflowing creek during heavy rainfall. The report concludes that his manner of death was accidental.

On Jan. 22, Roland and 5-year-old Phillip Campbell -- the child of family friends under Roland's care -- were driving to Riverside County to look at a car that was for sale. It was the weekend that a series of powerful winter storms hit San Diego County, causing flooding and dangerous conditions in many parts of the county.

As Roland's Toyota Camry approached the area of Fifth Street, east of Interstate 15 in Rainbow, California, the car was carried away by rising water from Rainbow Creek -- a normally small creek running across San Diego's North County to the Pacific Ocean.

The boy and Roland disappeared into the water.

Cal Fire and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO) launched an extensive search for them that lasted five days. Winter storm conditions and water levels in the creek made the first few days of the search extremely difficult and dangerous.

The following day, Jan. 23, Roland’s body was pulled from the creek. However, Phillip was nowhere to be found.

One Rainbow resident told NBC 7 that she saw the boy clinging to a tree limb before disappearing downstream on Jan. 22. The ME's preliminary report said other witnesses called 911 to report the child floating in the creek.

Roland’s autopsy states that a witness who lives in an apartment on Fifth Street called 911 to report she had seen the little boy floating in the creek. A second witness reported seeing the boy further south in the creek screaming for help. That witness, according to the autopsy, tried to help Phillip by extending a broom handle out into the water for the boy to grab, but the child was swept away by the rushing waters.

The searched pressed on – by ground and air – over the next five days. On Jan. 24, SDSO officials searched by helicopter from the point where Roland’s vehicle was believed to have entered the creek to the ocean. A crew flew low enough for searchers to try and spot any sign of the child.

Again, nothing.

Deputies said their mission was a recovery effort, not a rescue, as Phillip was presumed dead. As the rain stopped and water levels dropped, the search resumed on Jan. 25 and again on Jan. 26.

Four swift water teams moved up and down the creek. SDSO search and rescue teams canvassed the area.

Finally, on Jan. 26, just after 11 a.m., Phillip's body was found in the water, buried under 6 to 8 feet of debris.

Cal Fire Division Chief Nick Schuler said the boy was found in very thick brush and trees, in an area referred to by officials as a “strainer.”

Schuler said strainers are areas where large trees have fallen across the creek and where debris and brush has gotten hung up as the water rushes through.

He said Cal Fire’s inmate hand crews were removing debris and brush in a heavily-wooded strainer area when they noticed a small shoe lying in the brush. As they removed more debris, they uncovered the body of a little boy.

The area where Phillip's body was found is near Moon Valley Nurseries on the west side of Interstate 15. Schuler said the area was difficult to access, making for a “very technical search – very complicated and dangerous.”

“[The creek] probably flowed in excess of 15 to 18 feet deep and 80 feet wide,” he explained. “He was buried in approximately 6 to 8 feet of debris.”

“It literally was like a needle in a haystack to try and find this little boy,” he added.

In early February, family and friends gathered in Fallbrook to lay Roland and Phillip to rest. In an emotional "Celebration of Life" ceremony, relatives remembered how much Roland and the boy loved one another.

Phillip endearingly called Roland by the nickname "Pappy."

Although Phillip and Roland weren't related by blood, the pair were best friends. Roland and his girlfriend, Tracy, helped care for Phillip.

Phillip's family told NBC 7 the boy and his "Pappy" were inseparable and did everything together.

"He followed him everywhere, everywhere," Phillip's grandmother said of the boy's friendship with Roland.

Phillip's uncle, Anthony Campbell, said Roland was "a very good man" who dedicated a lot of time, along with Tracy, to helping raise Phillip. Roland was kind and generous, and those traits rubbed off on Phillip.

He called the connection between Phillip and Roland unique and their bond unbreakable.

"It was an awesome relationship. They went everywhere together," he added. "They were two great people."

On Tuesday, NBC 7 spoke with neighbors in Fallbrook who knew Roland and Phillip. They called this case a tragedy.

"He [Phillip] had no say so in the matter," one neighbor lamented. "The only thing you can think of from my belief, is that the Lord wanted to take him home."

"I've prayed for him many times and I will probably pray many more times," another neighbor said. "It was too close to home, way to close to home."

Contact Us