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Search in Kristin Smart case concludes Tuesday with no new information released
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Search in Kristin Smart case concludes Tuesday with no new information released

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's investigators search two days at Arroyo Grande home

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The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, whose personnel worked for nearly two days at the Arroyo Grande home of Ruben Flores in connection with the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, ended the search March 16 without releasing any new information.

Sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant March 15 at Flores’ home in the 700 block of White Court shortly before 8 a.m., according to spokesman Tony Cipolla, adding that cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar were authorized in the search. Ruben Flores is the father of Paul Flores, the prime suspect in the case.

Crews worked behind yellow police tape and continued their efforts the morning of March 16, scanning the backyard with the radar for a second day in a row. 

A blue pop-up canopy was seen covering portions of the backyard where crews appeared to have dug small holes and filled them back in, and placed items into orange buckets before carrying them away.

At one point, crews moved the canopy to another spot in the yard near a small grove of avocado trees, then moved it back to its original position near the house. Sheriff’s personnel were also seen going in and out of the back porch area of the house carrying shovels.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson was on scene throughout the day, although he did not speak to reporters. Flores, who left the residence when deputies arrived on March 15, returned home in his red SUV on March 16 before leaving once again. He did not speak to reporters.

Shortly before 2 p.m., investigators packed up and left the residence. No arrests were made.

Paul Flores, now 44, was the last person seen with the Cal Poly freshman when he walked her back to her dorm after an off-campus party on May 25, 1996. She was declared legally dead in 2002, though her body has never been recovered.

A 1995 graduate of Arroyo Grande High School, Flores was also taking Cal Poly classes at the time of Smart’s disappearance.

The Sheriff’s Office named Paul Flores the “prime suspect” in the Smart disappearance on March 15, a change from his status as a “person of interest,” which he has been since the beginning. Cipolla did not explain why his status has changed. No charges have been filed in the investigation.

In February 2020, four warrants were also served in California and Washington state. All five of those warrants remain sealed.

“As with any active investigation, we will not be commenting on what, if any, evidence has been discovered,” Cipolla said March 16. “No further information will be released at this time.”

The case was detailed extensively in episodes of the “Your Own Backyard” podcast, which is produced by Orcutt native Chris Lambert, who is credited with renewing public interest in the case. Lambert was on scene both days documenting events.

Although access to the search site was restricted to investigators, the media, neighbors and several members of the public were at the scene.

One person was 19-year-old Keaton Biallas, of Grover Beach, a Cuesta Community College student and alumnus of Paulding Middle School. The school sits less than a mile from the home of Susan Flores, Paul Flores’ mother, and a short distance away from White Court.

Biallas came to the scene March 16 after following Lambert’s livestream on Facebook. His friend’s mother lives across the street from the Flores residence on White Court. 

In high school, everybody was aware of the Smart case, although nobody really talked about it much until Lambert’s podcast, Biallas said.

“I went to all the locations from the podcast,” Biallas said. “I’m literally going to Paulding, to Grover every day. You can’t miss the Flores house [on Branch Street].”

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