Missing man crawls to safety after three-day ordeal

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A 48-year-old man reported missing earlier this week was found Thursday evening after he crawled with two broken legs to the corner of U.S. Highway 64 and Andrea Drive, and flagged down a motorist.

Deputies from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office found Jeffrey Darling at approximately 5:30 p.m. Thursday and transported him to the San Juan Regional Medical Center.

Roberta Rogers, a marketing manager at the San Juan Regional Medical Center, said Friday that Darling was in serious condition and unable to speak about the incident.

Darling used his cell phone to call emergency dispatch at approximately 1 a.m. Tuesday, reporting that he was in distress, but his exact location could not be ascertained. He remained in contact with dispatch until approximately 8:30 a.m., when it is assumed that his cell phone battery died.

Deputy Chief Craig Daugherty of the San Juan County Fire Department said that local first responders searched large swaths of San Juan County and parts of the Navajo Nation on Tuesday, but to no avail.

"When we started the search, we didn't have much to go on," Daugherty said. "We were scattered all across the place trying to find him."

Darling told dispatchers that he was near some cottonwood trees, a bridge and a building, Daugherty said. Darling's phone was further traced to a location on the Navajo Nation.

"The information we had was real sketchy," he said. "Late Tuesday evening, we finally halted the search because it got dark on us, and we determined that we were basically chasing a needle in a haystack."

Sheriff's Detective Lt. Cory Tanner said it was incredible that Darling managed to survive the three-day ordeal.

"He survived the coldest nights of winter we've had so far," Tanner said.

Tanner said deputies believe that Darling, who had vision problems, stepped off a cliff located about 300 yards from where he was found and slid down a ravine.

Deputies found evidence that Darling actually managed to build a fire where he fell, Tanner said, and it was apparent to first responders that he had suffered extensive leg injuries.

Tanner said that it did not appear that Darling had access to food or water where he fell, and he told medics he badly needed both when he was found.

Detective Sgt. Brandon Lane of the Farmington Police Department said his division is investigating the incident, but he believe Darling's injuries were the result of an accidental fall.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.