(MCT) — David Welch vanished from his Midwest home on Labor Day weekend, driving away without telling anyone where he was going or when he'd be back. When he hadn't returned after a few days, his family reported him missing.
It took more than six weeks to find out what had happened, and the why is still a mystery.
Welch, 54, died trapped in his wrecked minivan at the bottom of a Utah ravine, nearly 900 miles from his home in Manhattan, Kan. The Utah Highway Patrol found his body Oct. 18 after a hitchhiker spotted the vehicle from Interstate 70. His family last saw him on Sept. 2, Labor Day.
Although his relatives don't know why he left, they know he loved them. That's because he wrote them notes while he was dying.
"Dave was entrapped in the vehicle down the 80-foot ravine," his wife, Kelly, reportedly tweeted. "He wrote each of us a love note. He knew he was dying and there was no way out."
The Highway Patrol would not disclose the contents of the notes because they were personal. The family has not commented publicly.
In Kansas, Riley County police spokesman Matthew Droge said authorities had searched for Welch closer to home.
"It's good to have a conclusion, but it's an unfortunate conclusion," Droge said. "Definitely a tragic turn of events."
A Facebook page called "Find Dave Welch" included a post addressed to Welch just two days before his body was found: "There are thousands of people that care a great deal for you. We would do anything for you. We miss you so much and want you to know that we support you 110 percent. Your family loves you more than anything on this earth. Everyone wants you to know it's ok and we want you home. PLEASE come home soon. WE LOVE YOU."
Welch, a retired salesman with four sons and one grandchild, was looking forward to the birth of his second grandchild, according to his obituary. His family remembers him as incredibly loving and as someone who loved to help others.
Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Todd Johnson said Welch's 2000 Pontiac Montana went off the right shoulder of I-70 about Sept. 3. Welch was injured and couldn't get out of the minivan, Johnson said.
"It went airborne across the ravine, impacted on the other side and rolled onto its passenger side," he said.
Tire marks show no indication of skidding, he said, meaning Welch didn't try to correct the direction of the car. He might have fallen asleep at the wheel or been distracted, Johnson said.
That part of the highway isn't particularly hazardous.
"I-70 spans quite a bit of southern Utah, and this is not a problem spot right here," Johnson said.
The accident is under investigation. His family still doesn't know why he left, and may never know.
The day Welch was found, a new post went up on the Facebook page: "It is with deep sadness to report that Dave's earthly body was located."
During the ordeal, Twitter proved a source of solace for Kelly Welch, a professor at Kansas State University.
"Strength and prayers to you and your family," one tweet said. "The love you two shared is an inspiration to us all."
(c)2013 Los Angeles Times Distributed by MCT Information Services