DULUTH, Minn. — Dave Quiser decided to go for a ride on Christmas afternoon in hopes of finding a grouse or two along the back roads north of his home near Cook, Minn.
But instead the retired St. Louis County sheriff’s deputy came close to losing his life in 30-below-zero temperatures.
He’ll be lucky now if he doesn’t lose any fingers or toes due to severe frostbite. He was listed in serious condition last week in the burn unit of Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
“They’re hoping they won’t have to amputate anything at this point. He’s in a lot of pain now, but pain is good. It means he still has feeling,” said Dana Sanders, Quiser’s daughter.
Quiser, 72, was driving his Ford pickup about 10 miles northeast of Cook when it became stuck in a ditch along an unplowed logging road. He spent Christmas night in his truck, running the engine and heater.
Quiser later told his daughter that he heard an airplane he thought might be looking for him, and tried to signal SOS with his headlights, to no avail. On Tuesday, Quiser decided he was too far off the beaten path to ever be found, Sanders said. So he tried walking out to find help. It was still about 15 below zero.
“He called on Christmas to tell me he was going grouse hunting and where. So when he didn’t call to tell me he was home, I got worried,” said Sanders, who lives in Hibbing, Minn.
Sanders had her dad’s neighbors check his place. When they found no one home she called 911. It was just after 10 p.m. on Christmas night.
Within minutes the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office and St. Louis County Rescue Squad were organizing a search. They looked for Quiser throughout the night, until 5 a.m., near where Quiser said he would be hunting, but with no luck. Temperatures dropped to about 30 below zero.
Quiser was a couple miles away from where he said he would be, stuck off the Haley Road. He had tried to back out from a narrow logging road when the truck dropped a wheel into a ditch and wouldn’t budge.
He had recently sent his cell phone in for repair, although it’s not clear if there would have been a signal in that area anyhow.
Last Tuesday, Sanders’ family drove to the search area while volunteers from around the region checked roads and the Civil Air Patrol conducted aerial searches. Still, no luck.
In the waning daylight, just after 4 p.m. last Tuesday, local loggers Sheldon Sokoloski and his son, Prestin Sokoloski, were driving down a remote county road when they saw Quiser on his hands and knees.
“My son had come to help me move a dozer closer to a logging road we’re building. … We were driving out when we saw him, crawling along the side of the road,” Sheldon Sokoloski said.
“You don’t see people crawling along the road at 30 below when there’s nothing wrong.”
Quiser’s hands and feet were badly frostbitten and he was extremely hypothermic, so much so that he had trouble communicating.
The Sokoloskis got Quiser into their truck and sped to the emergency room at the Cook Hospital, about 20 minutes away.
“Funny thing is, I knew who he was. He was the Cook deputy forever and he used to fish the same lakes we do,” Sokoloski said. He estimated Quiser had come about two miles from his stuck truck.
The Sokoloskis didn’t even know anyone was missing. They just happened to decide to move the bulldozer when they did. If they hadn’t, Sokoloski isn’t sure Quiser would have made it.
“He got lucky,” Sokoloski said. “The county had already plowed the road we were on and I don’t think anyone else would have been driving by there that night. It doesn’t get much traffic.”
Sanders said her dad told her that he kept moving even when he was beyond cold.
“He said he knew that every step he managed was another step closer to his family,” she said while at her father’s side in his hospital room Wednesday afternoon. “And now he just keeps apologizing for not being where he said he was going to go.”