A search for a 74-year-old missing man ended tragically Friday.
More than 60 people and scent dogs combed a wooded area of Pulaski Township on foot and on four-wheelers overnight Thursday to Friday looking for Eugene Ross.
Their 13-hour search ended when a state police helicopter spotted Ross’ body near a shallow stream bed at the bottom of a ravine, about half a mile from his home, around 9:50 a.m. Friday.
Ross left his house on Rayner Road around 2 p.m. Thursday for a routine ride on his ATV, said Lt. Chad Adams, Pulaski Township police officer in charge. When Ross did not return home, his wife reported him missing at 6 p.m. After conferring with her, a search ensued around 8 p.m.
Fire and rescue and a volunteer search team walked and rode areas surrounding his home, in frigid temperatures, throughout the night Thursday and into Friday morning looking for Ross.
Pulaski Township Volunteer Fire Chief Guy Morse said a helicopter, which flew over the area during the night, returned in the morning and was able to spot Ross from above. The helicopter crew then notified ground searchers of his whereabouts, Morse said.
Coroner Rich “R.J.” Johnson said he pronounced Ross dead around 10:45 a.m. The death was ruled accidental.
Johnson said late Friday that Ross died of a heart condition as a result of hypothermia and exposure following the ATV accident.
“The preliminary investigation shows he wrecked his four-wheeler when he went down a small, steep ravine into a creek,” the coroner said. The front end of the ATV was stuck in the mud.
Ross had signs of injury from the accident, Johnson said, but he also had a history of cardiac illness.
Morse said the Pulaski Township police called him out around 8:30 p.m. for the search detail. They also corresponded with the state police to summon a helicopter with infrared imaging. Morse said he notified the Lawrence County K-9 Unit and the county department of public safety, which took a mobile command unit to the scene and set up a portable tent for shelter and with heat so the searchers had a place to get warm.
Allegheny Search and Rescue joined the group on foot, and Steel Valley Canine sent dogs to the area, Morse said.
“We were actually in that area last night. But because it was so dark, we were close to him but did not see him,” Morse said. “After it became daylight, we retraced our steps.”
The Mahoning and Neshannock township fire and police departments also assisted.
Morse estimated that the search crews covered about 680 acres on foot with scent dogs, and more than a mile with four-wheelers and side-by-side ATVs.
“Certain people in our fire department that had their own four-wheelers assisted in the search, along with people who lived in the area. There were a total of eight four-wheelers and two side-by-sides last night, which covered about a mile around the scene,” Morse said.
The leaders of the Walkers Search and Rescue, a group of volunteers from New Castle, also were out for several hours during the night.
“We were out until 3:30 a.m.,” said Marcia Black, who was searching alongside her husband, Chris. She and her husband were the only volunteers from the group who searched Thursday night, and they stayed until they were exhausted. The emergency rescue units stayed out on the detail in the frigid weather through the morning, until Ross was found, Black said.
The Walkers Search and Rescue group had organized about 10 volunteers to help Friday morning and they were heading back to the area when they were informed that Ross had been found, she said.
“I want to thank all those people for all their efforts,” Morse said of all the search groups. “A lot of them were not paid.”
People who knew Ross personally also went out, and “we appreciate all of them,” Adams said, adding, “I remember him when I played Little League baseball, seeing him at all of the games. He was a nice guy.”