Thanksgiving miracle touches Douglas families

Ron Santi of Minden knew his friend Lee Duncan well enough to know that when the Gardnerville insurance agent didn't make it home Tuesday night from a Lions Club meeting in Lake Tahoe, something bad had happened.

"He's a straight-forward guy and I just had a bad, bad gut feeling," Santi said Thursday night. "If he didn't come home and he didn't call, there's something wrong."

So on Thanksgiving morning, a day after Duncan's family reported him missing, the retired highway paver sneaked out of his house as his wife and three grandchildren slept and decided to retrace his friend's route.

It wouldn't be like Duncan to take Kingsbury Grade home from the North Shore meeting, said Santi, so he drove up to Spooner Summit and began the journey back down.

At each turnout, he stopped and looked around for signs of an accident " skidmarks or a break in the brush that covers the steep embankment down to Clear Creek Road.

The first pass was hindered by a thick fog, he said. On his second, he encountered the same drifting obstacle, but he could see that the cloud was lifting.

On his third and decided final journey back toward Carson City, the view had cleared and Santi again stopped at each turnout and looked over the side of the road.

"And as I looked down into the canyon I saw what could have been a shiny wheel. Then I saw a tree that was damaged halfway down. Then I spotted what looked like an overturned vehicle," he said.

Memorizing the landscape, Santi raced down the hill and turned onto Clear Creek Road. He checked his odometer and drove until he reached what he remembered.

"I parked and I started walking. I still couldn't find him, and I was going back to my vehicle," he said.

But a silhouette in the dense tangle of aspen branches and sage brush caught his eye.

Santi hunched down on his hands and knees and began crawling, moving branches aside.

There, on its roof, three miles up Clear Creek Road and 36 hours after Duncan was last seen, Santi found his friend's truck.

Duncan, 65, was lying on the inside roof of the overturned Jeep Cherokee. He was alive.According to Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen, Duncan lost control of his vehicle two miles west of Highway 395.

The Jeep ran off the side of the road and rolled down the embankment, resting on its roof 250 feet from the highway above.

His seatbelt saved him, the trooper said.

"Mr. Duncan was very fortunate not to have sustained more serious injuries or death," said Allen. "Considering all of the factors involved in this crash, this was a very fortunate outcome ... especially on Thanksgiving Day."

Allen said Duncan's injuries were relatively minor " hypothermia, a broken wrist, a black eye.

As paramedics prepared to load Duncan into an ambulance, Santi went up to his friend.

"Lee, it's me Ron Santi. I'll call your family," Santi said grabbing Duncan's hand.Santi said he was sure his friend knew he was there.

"I think he did, because he squeezed my hand," he said.

There was no turkey in the Santi home on Thanksgiving. The turkey cooker was out saving lives. Instead, Santi said, he loaded up the wife and grandkids and took them out to dinner.

Then afterward, he drove up Clear Creek to show his family where he'd found his friend hours before.

"Lee is such a good friend. When my wife had a stroke last year he was the first one to show up at my doorstep with a hot meal," Santi said. "He helped me. This was my way of helping him.

"I don't believe in miracles " but I'll tell you " something told me to get up and go this morning. It was like I had a guide."


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