Searchers who had been combing the Wallowa Mountains north of Halfway for a McMinnville man missing for more than a week found him Sunday morning in an unexpected place.
His own car.
Richard Towell Jr., 42, was sleeping in his 2008 Ford Focus after finding his way out of the woods and back to the Clear Creek trailhead, said Ashley McClay, public information officer for the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.
It’s not clear how long Towell was in the dense forests that predominate in that area, McClay said, or how far he walked.
He didn’t have food or water but was able to survive by drinking from streams and eating berries and mushrooms, she said.
“He was in pretty darn good condition considering how long he was out there,” McClay said this morning.
Sheriff’s deputies drove Towell to St. Alphonsus Medical Center—Baker City, where he was treated and released.
Towell previously lived in Halfway and graduated from Pine-Eagle High School.
His family reported him missing to the McMinnville Police Department after they went to his apartment there and found it was empty, McClay said.
Relatives suspected Towell might be in the Halfway area, and a friend found his car at the Clear Creek trailhead, about 11 miles north of Halfway on Wednesday, June 6, McClay said.
Towell’s relatives then called the Baker County Sheriff’s Office, which started searching for Towell on the morning of Thursday, June 7.
It’s not clear when Towell arrived at the trailhead, or when he left his car.
About eight to 15 searchers worked over the next three days, an effort that included people on foot, ATVs and horses.
The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office brought aerial drones to assist in the search, McClay said, and an Oregon State Police pilot also searched from the air.
Searchers didn’t find any sign of Towell on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
On Sunday morning a group of sheriff’s deputies and search and rescue members started by checking the Clear Creek trailhead, where Towell’s car remained parked.
They found Towell sleeping inside the vehicle, McClay said.
He told deputies that he had found his way back to the trailhead sometime late Saturday night. The car was unlocked but Towell had lost his keys so he was not able to start the car.
McClay said this morning that she didn’t know why Towell had traveled to Baker County.
See more in the June 11, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.