Editor's note: Mail Tribune photo editor Bob Pennell and reporter Paul Fattig were on their way to an assignment in the Greensprings Monday morning when they happened upon Kevin Nay walking along Highway 66. They brought him back down the mountain to rescue workers and Fattig filed this story.
By PAUL FATTIG
The man walking on the narrow shoulder of Highway 66 about 10 miles east of Ashland high in the Cascade Range Monday morning initially denied that he was lost.
Yet he fit the description in a flier released by police that morning of Kevin Nay, a 50-year-old man with dementia who had been missing since Sunday evening.
His disappearance had generated an all-night search by more than four dozen search and rescue workers from four agencies.
Mail Tribune photo editor Bob Pennell, who had earlier stopped by the search head-quarters set up at Ashland's Lithia Park, showed the man a digital copy of the photograph that was on the flier.
"Is that you?" Pennell asked him.
"That's me," he replied.
It was a few minutes before 11 a.m. Monday. The search for the Santa Barbara, Calif., resident was over.
The happy ending to what could have been a tragedy began when Kevin and his parents, Paul and Joanne Nay, also of Santa Barbara, stopped in Ashland on Sunday en route to Washington. Paul is a retired community college psychology instructor; Joanne is a retired industrial engineer.
Kevin, a former financial adviser, is the oldest of the Nays' three sons, all grown. A few years ago he was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, a disease which causes atrophy of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which generally are associated with personality, behavior and language.
The Nays had stopped in Ashland to see "Henry IV, Part One" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
"We had just come from having an excellent Italian dinner at a restaurant down the street," Paul Nay said. "Kevin has a habit of walking ahead of us because he is a fairly fast walker."
Paul was walking a little slower than usual to be there for Joanne, who is recovering from knee surgery.
"I was turning into the theater with Joanne and I hollered to Kevin, 'Stay with us,' " Paul recalled. "When I looked again, he was gone."
That was about 8 p.m. Sunday.
"We were so concerned for him because we knew he wouldn't be able to talk to people very well," Joanne said. "He wouldn't be able to communicate very well."
The Nays contacted the Ashland Police Department, which began a search. After initial efforts to find him proved futile, the search expanded in both number of agencies and volunteers. By late Sunday night, both Jackson and Josephine county search and rescue teams had stepped forward as did members of the Ashland Community Emergency Response Team.
Kevin was last seen on Pioneer Street just across from OSF, officials said.
"We were focused on Pioneer and around Lithia Park because at home he likes to visit parks," explained volunteer Chris Duran, a retired police officer who is a search manager for Jackson County Search and Rescue.
By early Monday morning, the search was expanded to include the north end of Granite Street, Duran said.
"We searched nonstop overnight," said Lt. Pat Rowland, who heads up Jackson County Sheriff's Department's search and rescue unit. He said up to 50 people, largely volunteers, joined in the effort.
"But he was outside our box," Rowland added. "If you look at national standards of what people his age do if they have the same issues, usually you'll find them within about 1.5 miles and along the path they were headed."
Duran concurred, noting it is unusual that a subject fitting Kevin's description would change direction.
"Statistically, we've got to work for our highest probabilities, and the highest probabilities are where he was headed," Duran said of Kevin's last sighting.
Kevin, who was unable to explain where he was going, although he said he had walked all night, accepted a ride in Pennell's pickup to the Ashland airport. Law enforcement officers gave him cold water and whisked him back to Lithia Park, where he was reunited with his parents.
Although estimating the cost of the search was $5,000 to $6,000, Rowland noted you can't put a price tag on a human life.
"Our volunteers don't get paid anything," he said. "This is what they do to give back to the community, no matter if it is a transient, a visitor or a resident."
"A happy ending like this is the best part of the job," Duran said.
Meanwhile, the Nays planned to spend a second night in Ashland before resuming their trip north.
"We are really impressed," Paul Nay said of the effort and the empathy they received by those involved in the search.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.