Autistic Colorado man wandered desert, ate frogs to survive

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DENVER — The Associated Press is reporting the amazing story of a Colorado Springs man with autism who wandered lost in the Escalante Desert for weeks before being rescued.

William Martin LaFever, 28, said he scavenged — catching frogs and eating roots — and drank water from the Escalante River when an attempted 90-mile expedition from Boulder, Utah to Page, Ariz. went awry. He was discovered Thursday after spending at least three weeks in the desert.

“It is some of the most rugged, unforgiving terrain you will find anywhere on Earth, jagged cliffs, stone ledges, sandstone, sagebrush, juniper,” Garfield County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Becki Bronson told the Associated Press. “There are no people. There are no towns.”

LaFever was making the trip to page to collect money from his father, John LaFever. John said William called him on June 6 or 7 to say he had been robbed of most of his hiking equipment and had run out of money.

John told William to catch a ride to Page, where John could wire some funds. The form of transportation William was planning to seek was of the aquatic variety. According to the sheriff’s department, William planned to hike down the Escalante River to hitch a boat ride along Lake Powell to Page. His dog came along on the journey.

The Sheriff’s department said William’s dog left him, he ran out of food and then abandoned all of his hiking gear except the clothes he was wearing when he was found.

The phone call in early June was the last time anyone had heard from William until he was discovered. His sister reported him missing Monday.

Much of the credit for William’s discovery is being given to Deputy Ray Gardner, who had been specially trained for search and rescue missions involving people with autism. Gardner said he felt “certain that in another 24 hours (William) would not have been alive.”

“I have never seen someone so emaciated,” Gardner said in a sheriff’s department release. William was so weak he could not stand when he was discovered.