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Hypothermia Not Cause Of Death

By Staff | Jan 21, 2009

Donald Rapson, the 82-year-old man from Parkersburg who was missing since Jan. 13 and found in the Blake Ridge area of Wetzel County Friday, may not have died of hypothermia due to the extremely cold conditions.

Wetzel County Medical Examiner Carla McBee said, “He didn’t have the classic signs of hypothermia. He didn’t have a lot of medical history, so we’re saying that maybe because of the stress of the event, he may have had some kind of a cardiac event.”

Rapson’s body was sent to the medical examiner in Charleston for an autopsy, and until that full report is read, the cause of death cannot be pinpointed, but McBee said, “I don’t think that it is hypothermia.” She added that based on the condition of his body, “I imagine that he passed away that first night.”

While Rapson was last seen at about 11:30 a.m. Jan. 13 at a Christian bookstore in Parkersburg, at approximate 6:50 a.m. Jan. 14 his vehicle was found by workers at the work site of an energy company putting in a pipeline. Wetzel County Sheriff James Hoskins received word of the abandoned vehicle at approximately 4:30 p.m. that day.

The sheriff’s department went out and started search that evening, but they were unable to locate him immediately. Weather conditions deteriorated and they called off the search at about 9:30 p.m.

Thursday morning the search resumed and they weren’t able to locate anything. On Friday they scaled back the search because the temperatures were below 0 degrees.

“I didn’t want to take the chance on anyone else getting hurt,” explained Hoskins.

But then on Friday at about 5:45 p.m., while the search efforts had resorted to draining a frack pit, a water storage area for the energy company, Rapson was found in the middle of a large log and brush pile approximately 200 yards from his vehicle. While his location may seem too close to the car to be that difficult to find, Hoskins explained that Rapson was almost camouflaged by wearing a gray jacket and black pants. Also, the pile he had perhaps used for shelter was snow covered.

However, on Friday afternoon the wind was blowing and snow wasn’t sticking as well. “Basically it uncovered him, where he could be located,” said Hoskins.

“I want to thank everyone who helped in the search given the bad weather conditions,” said Hoskins. “They did their very best considering the circumstances they were up against with the weather.”

How Rapson, an Alzheimer’s patient, ended up in the remote Blake Ridge area will likely always be a mystery. However, Hoskins said his family said he has done this type of wandering before. Originally from Michigan, Rapson would always try to go into Ohio to get back to Michigan.