Missing man shares his story

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Coates

By RALPH BARTHOLDT

Staff Writer

Howard Coates won’t go anywhere without his cellphone.

He did it once.

The experience almost killed him.

Coates, 66, is in good condition despite a hip that was broken after his ATV rolled last week, pinning him against a clump of trees. The Athol man, who had been missing for four days, was at Kootenai Health after being found less than a quarter mile from his home by family members.

Coates said he was pinned for days, barely able to move the off-road machine, which was on his legs.

He didn’t bring his cellphone on what he had anticipated would be a short jaunt on his ATV because he wasn’t planning to go far.

If he had his cellphone, he would have called for help.

Instead, he yelled.

“I yelled like crazy, but nobody heard me,” he said.

Coates was found south of Silverwood about 5:15 p.m. Sunday pinned between his ATV and a tree not far from a trail on private land. His wife reported him missing late Thursday from his North Ponderosa Street home after leaving on a four-wheeler wearing sneakers and pajama pants.

His wife told authorities he left the residence on a 2004 Camo Bombardier Outlander ATV. She did not know which direction he went.

“We didn’t know the direction of travel,” Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Ryan Higgins said. “We focussed on the trails and roads he might have gone on.”

Coates said he drove the ATV slowly on a trail near his home and along a sidehill in a meadow when he inadvertently rolled the machine. It pinned him against a clump of trees.

“There was only like three trees out there,” he said.

Search planes, when they flew over, were not able to see the ATV under the tree’s limbs, nor could they see Coates, who was jammed with his bare back to a tree’s trunk.

“Those planes flew over me all day,” he said.

It rained the first night, and he was soaked and shivering, he said. Then it rained again. The weather during the three days was a smorgasbord of North Idaho meteorology. Rain, sun — then cold.

“I was freezing,” he said. “The first night it rained real hard. I was freezing my ass off. It rained three times when I was out there.”

The sheriff’s office, along with the Civil Air Patrol, Spokane County and local search and rescue units scoured the area from Athol to Garwood and east to the Coeur d’Alene National Forest during daylight hours between Thursday and Sunday without results.

“It felt like I may never get out of there,” Coates said. “I was hoping, but it seemed like it was never going to happen.”

He drank rainwater, about a half cup, that puddled on the machine’s tool box cover, and considered cutting his leg off with a hose clamp that he tried to sharpen with a rock, he said. He hallucinated as the pain in his body became almost intolerable.

Sunday afternoon his wife, Cheryl, was in the Super 1 in Athol with her granddaughter when she received a cellphone call.

Her husband of 47 years had been found by his brother and son, who were riding their ATVs not far from the Coates’s neighborhood on their own search, just in case.

“I was thinking a lot of things,” Cheryl said. “I was just thankful that he was found, and that he was alive.”

Before he was found, Coates dreamed that his son was nearby.

That’s what he remembers, before his son and brother showed up.

“He was conscious and alert,” Higgins said. “He was cognitive. He knew what was going on.”

Coates is still in pain, he said, but most of all he is thankful for everyone who helped in the search.

“There were more than 300 people out there looking,” he said. “I’m just so tickled to death. I am just so thankful to be alive.”

If there’s a lesson, Coates said, it is to take nothing for granted.

And keep a cellphone nearby.

“I’m never leaving without my cellphone,” he said.

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