A 68-year-old Fullerton woman remains hospitalized as San Diego County law enforcement personnel continue to marvel at how she survived for two weeks in her disabled car on fruit, pie slices and rainwater.
Dianna Bedwell was found Sunday afternoon in a remote area of northeastern San Diego County in the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation after going missing on Mother’s Day. Her husband, Cecil “Paul” Knutson, died.
Their car had become stuck in the soft dirt of a backcountry path.
“That she survived is nothing short of a miracle,” said sheriff’s Lt. Ken Nelson. “Even for someone fit and in good health, surviving this long would be difficult. She is elderly and with health problems and yet she made it.”
Dehydrated and lapsing in and out of consciousness, Bedwell was airlifted to a hospital in Escondido. She was able to talk long enough to give investigators a clue about how she and her husband went missing. She also talked briefly on the phone to relatives.
The couple – both retired bus drivers – had spent the morning and early afternoon of May 10 at a casino in Valley Center. They left about 2 p.m. to go to their son’s home in La Quinta in Riverside County for dinner.
They apparently tried to find a shortcut to their son’s home to avoid the traffic on Interstate 15. Instead they may have gotten lost and disoriented.
Days of searching in the air and on the ground had been unsuccessful in spotting the couple's 2014 Hyundai Sonata.
The thickly forested area shields its secrets. When recreational off-road enthusiasts spotted the car Sunday afternoon, they were amazed. Why would anyone drive that far off a paved road?
The car was in an area that even experienced law enforcement personnel who have spent years patrolling the area call “remote.” The dirt trail, Nelson said, “is a road to nowhere.”
Cellphones are useless. There are few direction signs. The nearest road that would help a driver get to La Quinta is 15 miles away. The area is challenging even for four-wheel-drive vehicles.
When members of the Los Coyotes Police Department arrived, Bedwell praised her husband for his efforts to help her survive, although she appeared unaware that he had died. Officials have decided to let her family break the tragic news to her.
For days, the distraught family had searched the area, worked with law enforcement, and called for volunteers to continue the search. Much of the search concentrated on an area between Borrego Springs and Indio, which would be a route to La Quinta, near Palm Springs.
“Please help me find them – we are so heartbroken,” a Facebook post said.
Then on Sunday afternoon came other posts: “It is them…Rest in peace Dad” - followed hours later by “I got to talk to Mom. We exchanged I love yous.”
On Monday, the family asked for privacy. “Please continue to keep the family in your prayers,” a post said.
The San Diego County medical examiner will determine the cause and approximate time of Knutson’s death. At 6 foot 2, 225 pounds, Knutson, a former Marine, was diabetic and dependent on insulin. Bedwell, at 5 foot 3 and 240 pounds, is also diabetic and dependent on insulin.
In the early days of the disappearance, sheriff’s investigators suggested that the couple’s medical condition may have caused them to become disoriented.
Private detectives hired by the family from Downey-based ISC Investigations had speculated that the couple had gotten in an auto accident and their vehicle become disabled.
“The family is going through a mix of emotions: grieving for their father and praying for their mother’s recovery,” said Victoria Sanchez, one of the ISC investigators. “It’s been a long time since Mother’s Day.”
Los Coyotes police Lt. Lou Reed said the couple may have realized they were headed in the wrong direction and tried to turn around, only to get stuck. The car was headed east, he said, when it should have been going west.
“It’s almost unbelievable where they were,” he said.