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Missing Troy man found dead

| April 20, 2007 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News

Bear hunters on Tuesday found the remains of a Troy man who had been missing for more than 13 months.

Keith Nickerson's body was found near Troy, Ore., more than 300 miles from his Kootenai Vista home, said a spokeswoman with Wallowa County Sheriff's Office.

Officials identified Nickerson from his clothing, a belt buckle with his name and identification found on him, said Dr. Lowell Euhus, the county medical examiner.

Euhus believes Nickerson died from hypothermia due to exposure to the cold.

"We don't have any other evidence or anything else happening," Euhus said. "It sounds like he was out there confused, took off and didn't survive."

It had been theorized that the 75-year-old, who suffered from dementia, got lost when he left Troy on March 3, 2006. When Nickerson asked for directions to Troy, Mont., he was guided to Troy, Ore., where he got his rig stuck in the snow.

Around March 16, a resident reported finding Nickerson's 1988 Jeep Cherokee in the remote mountainous area of northeastern Oregon. It was believed to have been there for about one week. Two of Nickerson's homemade walking sticks were found near his abandoned vehicle.

About 20 people combed a 5-square-mile area during a four-day search. A second search followed in early May during a regional training exercise with a half dozen cadaver-sniffing dogs.

The hunters found Nickerson at about 4 p.m. Tuesday and told a neighbor.

"He was located about 2 1/2 miles from the location where he'd become stuck," the spokeswoman for the sheriff's office said.

A retired electrician, who 11 years ago moved home to Montana, Nickerson was last seen at a store in Troy.

Nickerson may have been distraught when he drove from Troy last March. Two days earlier, a motorist hit Nickerson's dog and didn't stop. The next day, he adopted a shepherd-huskie mix from Kootenai Pets for Life in Troy. He paid the $60 fee, and agreed to get the dog the next day.

Nickerson never showed.

Nickerson knew how to take care of himself.

His daughter, Karen DeJong of Modesto, Calif., said he was an avid hiker. He was always careful and as he was getting older, he would take ribbon and would tie it along the way to find his way back.

Nickerson also avoided risks. In his truck at home, DeJong said she found backpacks, an extra change of clothes and plastic to cover up with. She never doubted his ability to take care of himself.

Neighbor Bonnie Jenks said hearing the news about Nickerson being found was a relief.

"That'll give us closure," Jenks said. "I thought he would be found by a hunter. He liked the woods."