By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - A Kansas man who was trapped in his mangled minivan after he crashed into a ravine in the Utah desert passed his final days scribbling notes to the family he had left behind about six weeks earlier, authorities said on Wednesday.
David Welch, 54, was found dead in the wreckage with hand-written messages on October 18, after he left home in early September on an extended road trip without telling his family, said Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Lieutenant Scott Robertson.
Welch's minivan veered off an isolated stretch of Interstate 70 and tumbled into a dried-out ravine near Green River, in eastern Utah, around September 3, Robertson said. Welch suffered a broken leg that police believe prevented him from escaping the overturned van.
Debilitated and dying, the retired sales representative, who liked landscaping and scuba diving, scribbled "messages" to his wife of 32 years and his four sons. Robertson declined to share or describe the contents of the notes.
"We believe that he fell asleep at the wheel," Robertson said, noting that tire marks led straight off from where the roadway gradually turned.
Welch was alive for an unknown number of days, perhaps weeks, trapped in the "extensive" wreckage down a 70- to 80-foot-deep ravine, Robertson said. A hitchhiker spotted the crash site, roughly 50 miles west of Green River, on October 18. Green River is located in eastern Utah.
Welch left the Kansas town of Manhattan on September 2, and family members reported him missing. Worried he might not have access to needed medications, they set up a Facebook page on September 29 to make a nationwide appeal for help in locating Welch.
For weeks, family members posted pictures, prayers and pleas for any word on his whereabouts. Tens of thousands of people viewed the Facebook page, and some posted possible sightings and tips. His funeral was held October 25.
"He was an incredibly loving and caring husband, father and grandfather, and friend," said an obituary posted on a funeral home's website. "He loved to help others in their time of need no matter what the project or the situation."
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)