Hiker Found Dead after Heavy Rains
Matt Chidgey, 40, was found dead this morning in a narrow canyon in Wildwood Park’s Meadow Cove area, about 3/4 of a mile from a trailhead and 1/2 mile from the park’s main waterfall, said Detective Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. Chidgey was found by a close friend after an intense search through the muddy park that lasted more than 12 hours, friends and authorities said. The search included about 40 members of the sheriff’s search and rescue teams, search dogs, the sheriff’s Air Unit, more than two dozen friends and relatives, and the Ventura County Fire Department’s swift water rescue team.
The search began when Chidgey was reported missing Thursday evening after he failed to return from a hike to see the waterfall the day before. The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office determined Chidgey drowned and it ruled his death an accident, said Shasta Gainer, a deputy Ventura County medical examiner. The exact circumstances of Chidgey’s drowning were unclear, but authorities believe it was related to the rains that swelled the park’s creeks and which were falling heavily Wednesday. Buschow said his body apparently washed down a creek. Park rangers said the 1,754-acre park, located in the northwestern part of the city, was closed beginning Sunday due to the rains. Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency Supervising Park Ranger Glen Kinney said much of the water that comes through the city runs through Wildwood Park and the area often has flash floods during heavy rains. Kinney said injuries in the park aren’t uncommon though he could only remember two deaths in the past couple of decades. Water was about 15 feet deep at points during the storm, he said. Jeff King, a Thousand Oaks resident who hiked into the park to see the waterfall two days before Chidgey’s fatal trip, said the falls had about 10 times more water than usual.
Chidgey lived within walking distance of the park, where he hiked frequently, according to friends and sheriff’s officials. He grew up in a home just a few miles away. Childhood friend and Spazmatics bandmate Mike Clark said Chidgey was not a daredevil, and he thinks his friend’s familiarity with the park might have led him to underestimate the danger from the swollen creeks. “He knew the place like the back of his hand,” Clark said. “He spent a lot of time down there.” Hours after Chidgey was found dead, dozens of close friends gathered at his home to celebrate his life. They recalled the musician as a loyal friend and a hilarious, talented entertainer who will be sorely missed. “He was a comedic genius,” Clark said. “I always told him that if he ever stopped playing music he could be a stand-up comic.” On stage in The Spazmatics, which combines ‘80s tribute songs with comedy, Chidgey played a character named “Curtis” and wore a helmet because the character supposedly had a soft skull. With antics such as playing a sound clip of tap dancing and dancing along in sneakers, Chidgey often made bandmates laugh so much that they had trouble playing. “Nobody could speak,” said part-time Spazmatics guitarist Jason Orme, 43, of Thousand Oaks. “It was so funny.”
A talented recording engineer, Chidgey also came to the rescue when the band needed sound equipment fixed, friends said. His sense for comedy with a twist of the bizarre came out early. When he was a student at Thousand Oaks High School, for example, he bought a Chevrolet Suburban, painted it pink with purple tiger stripes, fixed a stuffed iguana to the hood, rigged windshield fluid to come out of the iguana’s mouth and routinely drove the vehicle to and from school, friends said. Though he worked for most of his professional life as a musician, Chidgey also designed shows at the Laserium at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, managed other tribute bands and earned a physics degree at California State University, Northridge, friends said. With The Spazmatics, he played the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills weekly and had a long-running gig at Dragonfly bar in Hollywood and toured the U.S. He also went to Europe with a disco band, friends said. He was also a musical mentor to many. “He could reach into your soul and squeeze the best out of it,” said his brother, Lee Chidgey, 43. Though Chidgey died before middle age, he lived more than most, his brother said. “He lived a full life,” his brother said. “He died doing something he loved to do.” Friends cried together while his brother recounted searching for him until 3:30 a.m., stopping to sleep for a few hours and then seeing him dead in the park after a friend found him. Lee Chidgey broke down as he recounted how the sun shone through rain clouds after he saw his brother dead and touched his lifeless body. He said: “That was Matt saying, ‘I was waiting for you.’"