REWIND 2014: Jeffrey Darling talks about surviving cliff fall

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

Editor's note: The Daily Times' annual Rewind series revisits stories we have reported on over the past year.

FARMINGTON — Jeffrey Darling will likely spend Christmas in his room at the San Juan Center of Genesis Healthcare here recovering from a shattered ankle, broken hip and broken spine.

It could be worse.

A month ago, as The Daily Times reported on Nov. 22, he found himself seriously injured in the desert after falling nearly 50 feet from a cliff near the intersection of Andrea Drive and U.S. Highway 64 in Farmington.

Despite the pain, Darling persevered. Passing in and out of consciousness, he dragged himself out of a canyon over a period of three days before being found by construction workers on the side of the highway.

He told The Daily Times in an interview he knew he could not wait for rescue.

"Lay there and wait for them to find me?" he said. "No way. They were going to be finding my bones."

Darling called 911 on his cell phone shortly after midnight on Nov. 18 and managed to tell dispatch, through panting groans and yelps, that he had fallen off a cliff after leaving the Browning Parkway to urinate in some bushes, according to a recording of the call.

Darling, blind in one eye and new to the area, could not provide specific details about where he landed or where he left the road.

Farmington police officers, paramedics and firefighters were dispatched to the area, but Darling could not be located.

At one point, police sounded an ambulance siren, but Darling said he could not hear it, according to the 911 call.

Eventually, dispatch lost contact with Darling.

Darling's mother, Cecilia Malouff, lives in Kirtland. She received two text messages from her son the day he went missing, according to the police report.

"Help me," read the first text message, sent at 11:30 a.m on Nov. 18.

A few hours later, he wrote: "mom I wont last another nite."

Malouff said in an interview that she did not hear from Darling after the second text.

"I was worried to death," she said. "After the fourth night came, I was beginning to feel like it was the end for him.

On Nov. 18, emergency workers searched throughout San Juan County and parts of the Navajo Nation looking for Darling, but they found no trace of him.

Darling, 46, said he is no stranger to hard living, having made his way for several years on the streets of Albuquerque.

According to court records, he was charged in Albuquerque's Metropolitan Court with multiple petty misdemeanor charges, mostly for drinking in public, between 2009 and 2012.

Darling said he fell into alcohol and drug abuse after his wife died of sclerosis of the liver, which was confirmed by his mother.

He eventually entered into in-patient treatment and got clean, he said, but when he left the treatment center, he had nothing left. So in the winter of 2012, he decided to move to Farmington to be closer to his mother.

Darling said the toughest part of his experience was maintaining his sanity, made harder because he suffers from both bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress.

"It's mental," he said. "It (screws) with your head. I've been in some (screwed) up situations in my life, and to me, it was just another thing I had to do."

He said that the night of Nov. 18, he stretched out in a sage brush.

"If you sleep on the ground, you'll die of hypothermia," he said. "If you lay in a bush, it's not as bad."

The second night, he managed to gather enough brush to start a fire with a lighter he had on him.

He spread out the hot coals, covered them in sand and slept on top of them.

He said he could hear an air boat dragging the nearby San Juan River, looking for his body on the second night.

"I knew at that point, they already thought I was done," he said.

During the day, he said he would drag himself across the sand using his arms, slipping in and out of consciousness at various times.

He said he eventually managed to crawl up a hill and spotted U.S. Highway 64.

"Today's the day that I get my (butt) out of here," he thought.

After he was spotted by construction workers who reported their find to authorities, deputies from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office found Darling at 4:45 p.m. Nov. 20 at 5510 U.S. Route 64, according to a police report.

He told deputies that he had not had any food or water since he had gone missing and asked paramedics to call his mother.

"I was happy," Malouff said. "I got to the hospital as soon as I could."

Darling now has 12 screws and a plate holding his spine in place. He said nothing can be done for his hip, and he is supposed to talk to his doctor this week to determine what to do about his ankle: let it heal naturally or undergo surgery.

"The little toe has turned black," he said. "Going to have to cut that off."

Darling would like to leave the rehabilitation center in the next few weeks, but that would require his finding a place to live.

Malouff said she is currently caring for her husband, who is bed ridden himself. She said Darling's bed would not fit in her home.

She said she is trying to find a place to rent for him in Kirtland near her own, but she has not had any luck so far.

"If he was in Kirtland, I could run around town and take care of him," she said. "I got to take my husband to dialysis three days a week. It's a handful."

Malouff said if anyone knows of a rental home in Kirtland that is wheelchair accessible, she would like them to contact her at 505-320-5743.

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.