CITRUS HEIGHTS (CBS13) – A Citrus Heights man who had been missing for nearly a week was found dead Wednesday night and his girlfriend was rescued and hospitalized.
The two were found Wednesday near Highway 88 in Alpine County on a closed lake road in Hope Valley at an elevation of about 7,200 feet.
Paula Lane, 46, was found crawling in the snow by her brother Gary Lane and family friend Brain Roff.
“That girl was crawling through it. Tell me that ain’t heart. Bless her heart,” said Roff. “I jumped out and went down and grabbed her and Gary jumped out and they hugged and kissed.”
She was rushed to Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center in Carson City. She is in stable condition with mild frostbite. The hospital issued a statement Wednesday night saying “she is in remarkably good shape considering her length of exposure.”
Getting to her wasn’t easy. In fact, the two broke the law. Roff says his jeep got stuck, so he and Gary had to “borrow” a Caltrans vehicle with the keys in it to drive the rest of the way.
“We knew she was OK, and we were right, and we were not going to come back without her, simple as that,” said Roff.
The Alpine County Sheriff’s Department says 44-year-old Roderick Clifton was found dead in an area of heavy snow nearby when searchers on snowmobiles went out to look for him after Lane was rescued.
The couple’s Jeep Cherokee became stuck in the snow while driving on Burnside Lake Road near Highways 88 and 89 on Nov. 29. The Alpine Sheriff’s Office said the road had been closed and they drove around a gate to access it.
Clifton left the vehicle the next morning to search for help but never returned. Lane eventually left the vehicle on Monday to seek help. A friend of the family’s told CBS13 she crawled right past Clifton’s body and saw that he was dead before she was rescued by her brother, who was using a Caltrans snow truck to search for her.
“That girl was crawling through it,” said Brian Roff, who was with Gary. “Tell me that ain’t heart. Bless her heart.”
Linda Hathaway, Lane’s sister, said at a press conference Thursday at the hospital that her brother had a feeling Paula was still alive and refused to give up. She received the call from him Wednesday night that he’d found their sister.
“Last night, when my brother called, I took the call and to hear him say, ‘I found her! I found her!’ I can’t explain it for you guys,” she said.
The family had just told Paula’s twin 11-year-old boys that their mother might not be coming home.
“It’s been a rough haul, waiting all those days, trying to know if she made it or not,” Linda said.
Also at the press conference, her treating physician Dr. Vijay Maiya said Lane survived by eating tomatoes and snow. The doctor said she stayed in a hollow tree with a blanket at one point but didn’t know how long she was out in the cold. She suffered only minor first-degree frostbite.
“She was one very lucky person,” he said. “I don’t know what she did, what footwear she had, God’s good grace, but she was very lucky that it wasn’t more severe.”
Paula’s doctor says she has a long road ahead before she mentally recovers from the ordeal. But she has an extremely thankful and loving family by her side.
“My sister may be little, but she’s mighty, and she’s a survivor, and she loves life,” Linda said.
“We knew she was OK and we were right. And we were not going to come back without her, simple as that,” Brian Roth said.
The couple, dating since summer, hadn’t been seen since leaving Citrus Heights on Nov. 29 on the way to Lane’s home in Gardnerville. Family and friends last saw the couple at a Citrus Heights 7-Eleven filling up their tank. They were on the road right before a storm hit.
“He probably saw some cool spot where he could see the river or something cool like that. He said ‘I’m going to go over there and test out my four-wheel drive.’ They probably just got stuck and then that storm that came through probably really got them struck,” explained Clifton’s daughter Mariah.
“He was so far off trail from where everybody was looking, where the search crews were looking, they were so far away from that, without Paula’s brother who found them, there’s no way they would have been found anytime soon.”
Clifton’s mother had feared the worst when he never called to say they’d made it to Gardnerville.
“I need to know if he’s alright or if I’ll ever see him again,” she said Tuesday.
Because of their location in the mountains, the couple did not have any cell phone reception.
Paula is expected to be released from the hospital early next week, at which point she’s expected to share her story with the media.