Snowplow operator finds missing man in Truckee on Christmas
TRUCKEE, Calif. — A Caltrans snow plow operator noticed a 77-year-old man stranded on Interstate 80 in 18-degree weather on Christmas night and came to his aid.
Robert Fish, a seasonal Caltrans equipment operator working out of Truckee, was plowing I-80 Thursday at about 9 p.m. when he noticed the man trying to wave down traffic near the eastbound Hirschdale Road off-ramp near Glenshire.
Fish stopped his snowplow and asked the man, later identified as James Mengel of Citrus Heights, Calif., if he was OK. Mengel said he had been involved in a hit-and-run accident and that his truck would not run.
He reportedly noticed Mengel’s speech was very quiet and that he seemed disoriented. He recognized this as possible signs of Alzheimer’s, which he was familiar with after caring for his step-father who had the disease, according to Caltrans.
Fish also noticed Mengel wasn’t wearing a jacket and asked him to get into his plow to warm up. He then called the Caltrans Kingvale Snow Communications Center, which notified the California Highway Patrol.
After a CHP officer arrived, it was determined Mengel was reported missing earlier in the week out of the Sacramento area and that a Silver Alert, used by the CHP for an unexplained or suspicious disappearance of an elderly person, had been issued.
“I’m proud of Robert for his actions that night,” Donner Pass Superintendent Dave Wood said in a statement. “His responsiveness ensured a happy ending to what could have been a tragic situation.”
Fish is working his fourth season as a Caltrans Sierra Snowfighter and is a resident of Colfax, where he lives with his wife, three daughters, four grandchildren, three dogs and seven ducks.
According to a CHP press release, two officers helped with transporting Mengel to Colfax, where he was reunited with his son, Greg.
The hit-and-run is being investigated; no other information is available, according to CHP.