This story has been updated with new information from the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office Tuesday.
A Kelso man died from hypothermia over the weekend after getting stuck in the snow while driving a side-by-side UTV on the Nicolai Mountain Mainline area east of Astoria, according to a release by the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office Tuesday.
Wayne Bittner, 42, called the agency at about 11 p.m. Friday night to report he was stuck in the snow. Deputies began searching the area that night, but poor cellphone service in the area meant they were only able to communicate briefly through text messages with Bittner. They were not able to obtain his name, location or vehicle description.
Investigators determined early Saturday morning that the caller was Bittner, who visited the area semi-regularly and rode his side-by-side there. Deputies, along with search and rescue volunteers, Westport Fire Department personnel and volunteers found Bittner’s vehicle Saturday morning off of an off-road riding trail near the 8-mile mark on Nicolai Mainline.
Bittner was not with his vehicle, but he was found soon after about half a mile away, dead from hypothermia, according to Sheriff Matthew Phillips.
Snow in the area was reportedly up to 18 inches deep, which deputies said made driving and searching conditions treacherous.
Bittner was a “throttle guy,” Curtis Bennett, a family friend of Bittner’s, told The Daily News Monday.
He flew large remote-controlled planes and loved to drive four-wheelers, “tearing through the snow and the brush” and climbing up hills, Bennett said.
Bennett and Bittner were both army veterans, and the two often shared conversation about their time in the service. Bittner, who served in Iraq, was “extremely proud” of his and his comrade’s service, Bennett said.
Bittner was a dispatcher for Swanson Bark & Wood Products in Longview and knew his job well, Bennett said. Bittner suffered from post-traumatic stress, and getting outdoors and camping by himself was the way he vented his stress, Bennett said.
And while he was a serious man, Bittner had a great sense of humor too, Bennett said.
“When he got married at the courthouse, that guy was cracking jokes through the whole ceremony,” Bennett said. “(People had) nothing but grins through the whole thing. He was a character.”
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