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Missing Marysville woman reunited with family, after wrong turn left her stranded for 10 days

Jake Abbott
Special to The Union
Sheryl Donovan, left, poses for a photo with her daughter, Elizabeth, middle, and grandchildren, Logan and Elexis, on Saturday. Sheryl Donovan, who had been missing since March 13, was found near Camptonville on Friday, March 23.
Courtesy photo

Lost and stuck in the mud with gas reserves dwindling, Sheryl Lynn Donovan waited in her car for someone to rescue her. There were plenty of people out looking for her in the North San Juan area, but no one could find her.

After 10 days, she decided she wasn’t going to die inside her vehicle, so she got out, found a road, flagged down a motorist and is now back with her family.

“She had been waiting in her car, waiting for someone to come find her. She didn’t know what else to do. She got stuck, it started snowing. She couldn’t get out. She used everything in her car to stay warm. She didn’t have any food, but it didn’t matter, she had God with her the whole time,” said Ashley Ehlert, Donovan’s oldest daughter, in an emotional Facebook video posted Friday night announcing her mother’s safe return.

The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office confirmed in a Facebook post Friday night that Donovan, 54, had been located and was with one of the department’s sergeants.

“I’m a survivor. I was worried I wasn’t going to make it, but I want to give God credit for keeping me alive through the prayers of everyone.”— Sheryl Lynn Donovan

Ehlert said Donovan’s vehicle had been stuck on Ridge Road outside of Camptonville since the evening of March 13.

Snowed in for three days

Donovan, who is a home health nurse, was headed back to her home in Marysville from a job in the North San Juan area of Nevada County when she took a wrong turn.

“Instead of taking a left, she took a right, which led her up further toward the mountain. She was off a rough road that was muddy and she got stuck. Her Ford Explorer wouldn’t go anywhere. Shortly after, it started snowing, so she decided the smartest thing to do was stay with the vehicle. She was snowed in for three days,” said daughter Elizabeth Donovan.

Her mother was able to use her vehicle’s heater for the first few days until the gas ran out, Elizabeth said.

“She recorded all of the hours she spent stuck; she kept a log of each day that went by. She has it all recorded,” Elizabeth said.

Donovan only had one water bottle in her vehicle that was partially full. She drank it in little sips, Elizabeth said. When that ran out, she took a small bowl she had and filled it up with snow and let it melt inside the vehicle before drinking it.

On one of the days, her mother fed herself with a pretzel she found underneath a seat. She also had one package of instant oatmeal that she ate in small portions to stretch out her food supply as long as she could, Elizabeth said.

When she got cold, she took a sip from a bottle of brandy she had stored in the back of the car to keep her warm. Donovan also had some blankets and extra clothes in the car, which helped her stay warm.

“She knitted herself a pair of velvet mitts to put around her feet, because she was wearing very thin socks,” Elizabeth said.

The final push

On the 10th day, the sun came out. Sheryl made a decision that she wasn’t going to die there, so she left the vehicle behind to find help, Elizabeth said.

She located a stream and followed it.

Elizabeth said her mother followed the stream until she found a dirt road. From there, she followed it to a paved road where she would eventually find someone.

She stepped out in front of the first vehicle she could. After she explained what she had been through, the foothill residents who had found her took Donovan back to their home so she could call the police.

That’s about when Elizabeth got the call that her mother had been found alive.

“I was in the kitchen, I don’t really remember what was going on or what I was doing. I just remember getting a call and not knowing who it was at first. It was my brother-in-law who called and told me she was alive. I couldn’t say anything, I was speechless,” Elizabeth said.

Donovan was treated at a hospital in Nevada County on Friday night and then released to family. She didn’t have any injuries, but was suffering from a bladder infection, low potassium levels and dehydration.

Donovan spent Saturday resting and recovering with family. She expressed her gratitude for the effort so many people undertook in trying to find her – from the people who searched the roads and hillsides in the foothills to those that helped spread the word online.

“I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart and for their prayers,” Donovan said. “I’m a survivor. I was worried I wasn’t going to make it, but I want to give God credit for keeping me alive through the prayers of everyone.”

Jake Abbott is a reporter with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. Contact him at jab.bott@appealdemocrat.com.

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