The Southern California man found dead near his stranded vehicle weeks after he and his wife were reported missing, survived for one week before dying of a heart attack, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday.
Emergency personnel found Cecil “Paul” Knutson, 79, on May 24 near Warner Springs in a remote area of San Diego County — two weeks after he and his wife were reported missing. Knutson was slumped over the running board of the front driver’s door in the couple's Hyundai Sonata.
His wife, Dianna Bedwell, was in critical condition and sitting in the passenger seat.
Lost on their way to their son's home in La Quinta, California for Mother's Day, Knutson wrote a note dated May 17 describing what had happened after they left Valley View Casino on May 10. It was on a clipboard inside the car that had come to rest three-quarters of a mile down a steep and rugged dirt road.
The couple took a route they hadn't tried before, but their stepson said they had plotted the course on an atlas before the trip, according to the report from the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office.
As they were traveling, Bedwell realized they were going the wrong way. Knutson told her that he knew where he was going, the report states.
As the dirt roads became impassable, Knutson attempted to turn the vehicle around but struck a rock and soon became stuck.
The couple survived for on rainwater, an eight-pound bag of oranges and a banana creme pie, officials said.
Knutson suffered from diabetes and cataracts and was in remission for colon cancer. He had difficulty getting around without his walker but was said to be "sharp as a tack," family members told the coroner.
The autopsy listed his cause of death as heart attack and categorized it as accidental adding that no signs of foul play or trauma were seen on the body. Contributing factors included cardiovascular disease and environmental exposure, hyperglycemia and acute bronchopneumonia, officials said.
Bedwell was released from the hospital and underwent rehab for her injuries in the Palm Springs area.
Memorial services for Knutson were scheduled to be held on July 10 at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif. according to Bedwell's attorney Gloria Allred. The ceremony will include military honors for his service as a U.S. Marine.
A surveillance camera caught the couple as they left the Valley View Casino around 2 p.m. on May 10.
For several days, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department along with volunteers and family members scoured the roads and desert area between Valley Center and La Quinta in search of the missing couple.
The coroner's report said that the sheriff's investigators attempted to locate the couple by "pinging" their cell phones but the phones were turned off.
On May 24 the couple’s car was found by a man four-wheeling in a remote and rocky area near Warner Springs along State Route 79, approximately 47 miles from the casino.