MALHEUR COUNTY — A report of a burned-out car above the canal by Malheur Butte on Friday ended up leading to the recovery of a body, which could be an elderly man missing out of the Caldwell area since March.
The Caldwell Police Department is working on getting dental records in order to positively identify the man, according to Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe.
A deputy was dispatched to the car after an employee of the Owyhee Irrigation District called it in, the sheriff said. When the deputy found the car east of the Malheur Siphon on a canal by Foothill Drive, it was burned to the point that he was only able to get a partial license plate number, Wolfe said.
Back at the office, when the deputy tried to put together the portion of plate number he had with the make and model of the car, he got a hit, according to Wolfe. When dispatch ran the plate number, it came back as having an attempt-to-locate out of Caldwell on March 5.
Because of that, the deputy went back out to the butte and began searching through sagebrush in the area near the car. The deputy ended up finding a “deceased male lying down in a ditch which was about seventy-four feet from the vehicle.”
Oregon State Police arson investigators were called “to see if accelerant was used for burning the car.”
It was determined that was not the case, and the best guess investigators were able to come up with after spending the day on scene, Wolfe said, was that something may have caused the car to catch fire.
The vehicle was “stuck in the mud and it looked like the person had spent quite a bit of time trying to get it unstuck, by trying to work it back and forth,” the sheriff said.
That action may have caused the vehicle to overheat and catch on fire, but investigators “don’t know that for sure,” Wolfe said.
It appeared the car and body had been at the butte for about three weeks, he said, adding that until the body is positively identified they won’t be able to release a name.
However, Wolfe said “we believe the body to be that of an eighty-eight-year-old subject from Caldwell.”
While the medical examiner has not determined a cause of death, it is reasonable to believe that the man overexerted himself based on evidence at the scene, Wolfe said.
“It has to be a terrible thing for the family not knowing” what happened to the man, he said.
While the person’s identity is not yet certain, it is worth noting that Caldwell police have been trying to find an 88-year-old man who went missing in early March from the Boise area.