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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Rescue Me!

On a snowy night in New Hampshire, Congressional candidate Gary Dodds crashed his car, wandered into the woods, and collapsed. Twenty-seven hours later, rescuers carried him out. And then the real drama began.

by: David Howard, photos by Julia Vandenoever

Gary Dodd's Portsmouth PD mugshot.
Gary Dodd's Portsmouth PD mugshot.
Gary Dodd's Portsmouth PD mugshot.
Gary Dodd's Portsmouth PD mugshot.
Sgt. Richard Mitchell investigated the Dodds campaign.
Sgt. Richard Mitchell investigated the Dodds campaign.
Search Cmdr. John Wimsatt.
Search Cmdr. John Wimsatt.
Condos near the Bellamy River.
Condos near the Bellamy River.
Dodds in court on July 8, 2008.
Dodds in court on July 8, 2008.
Eli, the search & rescue dog that found Dodds.
Eli, the search & rescue dog that found Dodds.
Stafford County Attorney Tom Vilardi.
Stafford County Attorney Tom Vilardi.

The night of April 5, 2006, brought brought a classic early-spring New England storm: big, moist, tumbling gobs of snow, but the temperature–about 34°F–was too warm for the squall to amount to much. The flakes were mostly an inconvenience to drivers on the Spaulding Turnpike, a highway that slices through southeastern New Hampshire, linking the city of Portsmouth to the suburbs northward.

Gary Dodds was driving his 1997 Lincoln Continental–plastered with "Dodds for Congress" stickers–southbound through Dover. It had been a long day in a series of long days for the grassroots-style candidate. He was in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination, and had a business to run, too. At 8:16 p.m., according to his recollection, he glanced at his car radio. When he looked up again, he thought he saw something dart in front of him: a deer, maybe.

He instinctively yanked the wheel right. The car veered into and over the guardrail, skidded across a snowy swale, and after rotating clockwise came to a stop facing into the woods. The airbags had deployed. Dodds had banged his head, and he thought he smelled smoke. According to Dodds's telling, he hurriedly disengaged his seat belt and crawled out.

He remembers little of what happened next. Dodds recalls suddenly being over his head in frigid water, which he swallowed in gulps, and swimming ferociously to avoid drowning. He clawed his way onto land and stumbled, disoriented, through dark woods.

Dodds is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds. He is a sometime hiker and martial-arts practitioner. Now, though, according to his account, after climbing a steep hill his legs felt wooden and he couldn't go on. He was wearing a gray fleece jacket over a dress shirt. His khaki pants and black dress shoe (he'd lost the other) and socks were soaked. But it was dark and cold and he had no idea where he was, or how far he'd come. Maybe he could figure out what to do when daylight came.

He found a hemlock tree and lay down under a bough, in some leaves, and fell unconscious.

Cheryl Hurley couldn't beliEve how fast the driver had disappeared. She'd been driving slowly in the squall when she saw the brake lights flash up ahead and then swerve off the roadway. She pulled over and dialed 911. But the Lincoln's driver was already gone. There was just enough snow to show footprints leading back toward the highway.

When state police Trooper Brian Strong arrived, the accident reconstruction specialist noted the footprints as well and surmised that another motorist had picked up the driver. A phone call was made to Dodds's home, and eventually Cindy showed up. By that time, Strong's supervisor, Sgt. Gary Woods, had also arrived. Woods recalls that Cindy seemed concerned but calm. She asked whether the police would call in search dogs; Woods demurred, pointing out that footprints led back toward the turnpike. In the absence of any solid leads, a third-shift trooper who arrived later simply drove around, poking his cruiser's spotlight into the woods. The next morning, Sgt. Richard Mitchell headed to the scene. When Mitchell arrived, he met Cindy, who by then seemed upset. She'd returned that morning with friends, family, and campaign workers to search. "Her first words to me," Mitchell recalls, "was that the Democratic Party was out to get her husband." She explained that his campaign was threatening the party apparatus, which was supporting another candidate and thus wanted Dodds out of the picture.

"I didn't believe that for a second," Mitchell says. "I live in the district, and I'd never heard of him." Mitchell, a burly man with a fleshy, red-cheeked face, is a 25-year state police veteran, and the sort of cynical, guile-free cop who populates crime-fiction potboilers, offering up self-deprecating maxims such as "I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but..."

Mitchell had reason to be skeptical. In his experience, people left accident scenes only when the car was stolen, or the driver had been drinking or was otherwise in trouble. Cindy assured him this was a legitimate missing-persons case. By noon, with still no sign of Dodds more than 16 hours after the accident, officials called New Hampshire's Department of Fish and Game, the agency responsible for search-and-rescue operations. But this wasn't a typical search. "There was everywhere to look and nowhere to look," Trooper Craig Vetter later recalled. "There was nothing to follow."



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READERS COMMENTS

Matt Buchko
Jan 27, 2009

Seriously?! Why are you people getting all anal about a flippin' magazine article. This is not JEMS, this is not FIRE/RESCUE, this is not some EMT or medical or SAR journal for the professionals in these fields ... dude this is a magazine. Settle down. So you didn't like the article ... what do you want? Don't read it if you don't like it. Why spend time bad mouthing a good publication? I've been a SAR volunteer for 8 years. I've read BP for probably as long. If I want professional advice and articles on SAR events I look to NASAR publications ... not a frickin' magazine from the new stand. Calm down boys and girls. This is a good magazine that I have seen constantly grow and change for years. I may not like everything I see but this magazine is fantastic for the most part.

Go get your sticks surgically removed from whatever cavity you shoved it up ... seriously.

... now if you wanna bad mouth the tool that staged is ordeal ... go nuts.

Roy
Dec 01, 2008

I haven't read every article in bp but have read a few stories of survival(or of people who didn't), and judging by that- I would agree with the author that this story is relevent. Anytime someone makes a hoax about being stranded or times where damn near millions are spent on rescueing hikers who were ill prepared, reflects on outdoor enthusiasts, like it or not it's unavoidable.

Tom Bourgoine
Nov 27, 2008

As a New Hampshire resident, Wilderness EMT and an active Volunteer SAR member. This story has no place in backpacker magazine. Gary Dodds is in the N.H.news(WMUR)every week for doing something stupid,the guy is a nutcase. Many resources and valuable man hours where spent looking for this nut because he needed free press, please stop giving it to him. If you want to include a story about lost hikers write one about the hundreds of volunteer SAR members across the country most of whom are volunteers who pay for their own equipment,training and even gas to help a fellow hiker, climbers or anyone who needs help.
Did backpacker magazine support Dodds campaign?
Stop wasting paper print stuff worth reading.

Joe Lustik
Nov 27, 2008

I dont' get it. I kept looking for more of the story. It seems like this article was a set up for a flashback to the actual survival events, but it never came. How disappointing. Very poor journalism.

ed
Nov 27, 2008

glad I didn't renew

Christopher Johnson
Nov 26, 2008

I have to agree with Steve Sacco. Continued inclusion of off-topic stories like this are one reason why I'm letting my subscription run out and I won't be renewing it.

Steve Sacco
Nov 26, 2008

OK. I read the whole article and I still don't understand what possible motivation you could have for including it in Backpacking. I give up.

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