Man found alive in woods near Friedens after a five-hour search

January 17, 2019

Meco, a 5-year-old pit bull, followed the scent of footprints in the snow, leading his partner, Dave Boyer, into a wooded area near Friedens. There, he found Steven Nash, of Allegheny County, huddled under a pile of logs, trying to get away from the icy winds.

Nash, of North Versailles, could not speak as a group of searchers just off the wooded area at Welsh Hill Road crowded around a Somerset Area Ambulance Association vehicle around noon Wednesday. Nash was placed inside and whisked off to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.

His condition was not available from the hospital Wednesday night.

In the crowd were state police, members of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Tactical Search Team 400, which provided K-9s, handlers and a drone, a crew from Friedens Volunteer Fire Department, other first responders and emergency personnel, and media.

According to police, Nash had spent at least five hours walking an estimated 4 miles in circles that led him over a fence, across an airport runway, back and forth over roads and into woods. He walked many of those miles without shoes he had lost along the way after abandoning his car in a field along the entrance road to the Somerset County Airport.

His crisscrossing footprints led to a more encompassing search, they said.

“He was suffering from the weather,” said Trooper Luigi Dirienzo, who led the state police team on the case. “I tried to talk to him, but he couldn’t respond. He did some nodding and some blinking. So, basically we bundled him up and took him to the ambulance.”

No one in the search party knew why the 35-year-old North Versailles resident had abandoned his vehicle or why he took off on foot on a bitterly cold and snowy morning. They were glad, however, to find him.

The snow might have helped Meco find Nash.

“Actually snow can amplify the scent,” said Boyer, the team chief.

“Thank God we found him when we did,” he said. “He was showing signs of exposure to the elements.”

“No one wants to hear bad news,” Trooper John Haydu added as he waited near the abandoned car at the airport for more of his team.

Somerset County Airport manager Dave Wright found the vehicle around 7:30 a.m. The car’s tracks were rapidly being filled by snow. No one was around, so he called the state police.

“It looked like he just parked there,” Wright said. There were no ruts that would signify spinning wheels, he said.

Dirienzo said the car was unlocked and the keys were missing from the ignition. There were footprints that led to a fence, a shoe and spots of blood. At that point the search intensified.

Team 400 brought dogs and a drone. When the search led to the wooded area, the drone was not needed as much as the dogs and their partners.

Sheriff Brad Cramer was with the team at its most recent staging area when Boyer and Susan Levy walked out of the woods to exchange Levy’s K-9 Woody for Meco. At that point, Cramer knew the team was on the lost man’s trail, he said.

“I had faith that the team would find him,” he said.

He had spoken to troopers searching another area where footprints dominated the snow.

A short time later, Boyer and Meco, on a 30-foot lead, found their goal.

“There is a time and place for each resource (in search and rescue),” Boyer said. “This time, if it wouldn’t have been for the dog, we probably wouldn’t have found him.”

Meco was “completely committed to his task”; however, he was only part of the solution of a good effort by everybody who was involved in the search and rescue, Boyer said.

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