Corpse discovery in creek near I-80 spurs investigation

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The discovery of a man’s corpse near Boreal Mountain ski resort is producing more questions than answers for the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Keith Royal said Friday that the body had yet to be positively identified and a cause of death was still being determined. The discovery of the corpse came late Wednesday after deputies started an investigation into a vehicle abandoned on the side of eastbound Interstate 80, just west of the ski resort. Footprints in the snow next to the vehicle led investigators on foot south from the freeway to a slope about 75 yards away. The footprints ended at the slope and a rescue team using a search dog moved down from the ridge to find the man’s body in a creek and lodged between rocks, Royal said. Royal said his office had initial concerns that the man may have been struck in the head but a closer examination now is leading to the belief that he struck his head, possibly in a fall down the embankment. Possible scenarios involving the man include a drug overdose, a heart attack or a fall, Royal said. The man may have walked away from the freeway after parking his car at the side of the road to relieve himself, he said. Complicating the identification process, the condition of the body suggested it had been there for several days. Animals had visited the site and the condition of the face had deteriorated. As a result, the identification effort is requiring fingerprint and DNA identification, Royal said. “And that takes time,” he said. Toxicology tests will also take place to help determine whether a drug overdose led to the man’s death, Royal added. While no driver’s license was found, there were papers in the vehicle that are helping make an identification. But the office won’t contact possible next of kin until a positive identification can be made, the sheriff said. The vehicle itself was not reported stolen, Royal said. “There are no indications of any foul play at this point,” he said. Interstate 80 across Donner Summit – particularly overnight – doesn’t have many public restroom opportunities for drivers. But Caltrans spokeswoman Rochelle Jenkins said that the only stops along the side of Interstate 80 that are legal involve emergencies. Complicating motoring over the summit and planning for rest stop breaks this winter has been the ongoing work on the east and westbound Donner Rest Areas. The rest areas will be closed through July 1 in a $3.4 million project to replace them both, upgrade parking and conform with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Jenkins said that when snow-conditions warnings aren’t up, message boards in advance of both Gold Run and Truckee do let motorists know that the rest stops are not available.