Man found dead after two-plus months in snow

Linn County Sheriff’s detectives are investigating the death of a man who was stranded in a remote mountain area in east Linn County for nearly 70 days after his vehicle had become stuck in the snow in February.

A U.S. Forest Service crew surveying roads discovered the deceased man Thursday morning, May 12, on Forest Service Road 517, about three miles from Highway 22 and about four miles from Marion Forks. The body was found in a sleeping bag in the back of a 1997 GMC pickup with a canopy. There are no signs of foul play. Over $5,000 in cash was found in the vehicle.

The deceased man has been identified through fingerprints as Jerry William McDonald, 68. He did not have a permanent home but the address on his vehicle registration was listed as being Unity.

McDonald, who, detectives determined, was estranged from his family, had not been reported missing, Sheriff Tim Mueller said. The preliminary investigation and autopsy indicate that McDonald’s death was “consistent with starvation and/or hypothermia,” he said.

Mueller said McDonald had apparently tried to get his pickup out by using a jack and placing rocks under the tires for traction. The pickup was drivable, with about a quarter tank of gas and chains on all four tires.

McDonald had built a small fire, and had clothing appropriate for the cold weather. He also had water, which he was collecting in buckets, and extra fuel for the pickup. Detectives did not find any food with the vehicle or any equipment such as a GPS, cell phone or compass.

A homemade calendar found in the vehicle indicates McDonald had arrived in the area on Feb. 7, probably to camp, but may have become snowed in on Feb. 14. He had been using the calendar as a journal and recorded where he was, what he was doing and the weather conditions.

McDonald’s journal entry for March 2 reads “Trapped, snowed in on 14th.” His final entry, merely indicating how long he’d been there, was made on April 15, 68 days since his first entry on Feb. 7.

The road McDonald was on is in a mountainous area of east Linn County and the way in or out would have been impassable once it snowed. There were no indications that he had attempted to walk out of the area, Mueller said.

The body was taken to AAsum-Dufour Funeral Home in Albany. An autopsy is scheduled for later.

The Linn County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers, the Oregon State Police identification bureau, and the West Linn Police Department, which helped with family notification.