After a Car Wreck, a Local Man Survived ’18 Hours of Cold Hell’

A photo taken after the crash shows the crumpled front end of Dana Porter's pickup.

A photo taken after the crash shows the crumpled front end of Dana Porter’s pickup. [All photos provided by Dana Porter but taken by Elijah Burke]

About 5:30 p.m. on January 3rd, Dana Porter was heading west on Hwy 36 between Wildwood and Hwy 3 in his Dodge pickup. He had just called his family and told them he’d be home by 8 p.m. but he would spend the next nearly 18 hours in a cold hell after he says he was run off the road by another Dodge pickup.

“It was dark and there was like slushy snow on the ground,” he told us from his bed where he’s recovering. “Me and my two dogs–a blue heeler and a black lab–were in the cab.”

About halfway between Wildwood and Hwy 3, Porter said he saw a black suburban that was brand new but all muddy coming towards him. There were rocks in the road so the vehicle swerved into his lane but went back into theirs in time. “But, right behind them was a…I think it was a white Dodge…between a 2010 and a 2014. It just looked like a hill truck, a nice truck maybe a headache bar or a light bar.”  Porter, who has a major concussion that can cause memory problems, says they were in his lane and he doesn’t know if they hit his truck or if he just swerved to avoid them.

In any case, he came to inside his truck (he later heard the pickup was 410 feet down a steep hillside) near a creek. “When I woke up, I’m thinking well this isn’t a good spot to be,” he explained. “I got to get the hell out of here. [The truck] was making all sorts of weird noises…I could hear a lot of noise and there was falling debris. [The truck] kept rolling. There was smoke and diesel.”

Having recently seen a pickup that wrecked catch fire and burn quickly, Porter feared he might die. “I’m going to get out of here or I’m going to burn to death,” he thought. “I cut my seat belt…[I used a] seat belt cutter my mom gave me a few years ago. It’s on my right seat belt plug in.”

Truck smashed against tree.

Truck smashed near a tree on the steep slope.

Porter said the door was jammed. “I had a lot of blood on [my] hands and couldn’t open [the] door…Cause it was smashed shut,” he explained. “It was all very confusing.”

In the thick darkness and reeling from the accident, Porter said he was disoriented. “My lab was right on me. My heeler was scared and run off. But she came back.”

After sitting for a bit, Porter took stock. “I had broke my front and my back tooth,” he explained. “My mouth was full of blood and dirt.” He also said his ear was “ripped apart” and side of his face was badly scratched up.

Porter said he fumbled his way to a creek. “I washed the blood and dirt out of my mouth.” But in doing so he fell in the water. With snow on the ground, he now was getting colder fast. He had lost his cell phone in the crash but he did have his hunting jacket on with a can of sardines in one pocket and spam in the other. One pocket also had a flashlight.

Even as disoriented as he was, Porter said he knew he needed to leave clues for searchers if he left the area, but he was afraid to stay still as he was so cold. In addition, he thought he heard emergency vehicles in the distance and thought he walk towards them. “I found a big log with no bark and  I wrote in blood an arrow pointing downstream so they’d know which way I went,” he explained. “I thought I heard sirens. I started walking towards them.”

He stumbled his way downstream with a flashlight from his pocket that was dimming but discovered what he had thought were sirens were coyotes calling. But, here he thought he might have found something to help. There was signs of an old marijuana grow. He poked around and found a duffle bag with clothes but unfortunately they were soaking wet. He strung these out in hopes they would provide clues on where he had gone.

As he moved, he said he tried to keep breaking branches.

Eventually, he sat. “One of the dogs–my heeler–wanted to play fetch and kept bringing me sticks…. I had a lighter so I built a fire.”

At first he felt hope. He said, “I’m a hunter. I’m in good shape. I figure I’ll be alright. But, then it started snowing. Then it started sleeting. It started raining. My fire started going out.”

He said he thought, “I’m in trouble.”  At first he tried to dig up under the brush. His lab came and snuggled him. “She crawled up under my neck between my hood and my neck. She was shivering and whining. She was freezing. She didn’t want me to go to sleep.”

And she wasn’t the only one. Porter’s girlfriend kept appearing. “Every time I closed my eyes, my girlfriend told me to wake myself get up and go home. She said, ‘You need to go home. You have a family.”

So Porter said he sat up. “And I had to start moving as I was soaking ass wet and I was cold….I crawled and walked.” He said he kept one hand on his lab–“I used her for search and rescue before.”  He kept stumbling in the pitch dark and his lab would balk and whine if he started to go somewhere unsafe. “I walked and walked until I found a outcropping. I dug out with my hands and my dog dug with her paws until I could get my head dry under it. By that time it was 10 at night I guess.”

The two snuggled together. “My heeler was keeping watch in the pouring rain,” he explained. “I love the dogs they stuck with me through the night.”

But even with his head dry, he was freezing. “I was getting so cold I was being incoherent,” Porter said. “Ice was starting to form up on my clothes. I was soaking wet from falling in the water and the rain…Then I started walking and used my lighter. It would flicker out. Then I would snap it on again… I had my dog by the scruff of the neck and she would let out a high pitch scream if I got ahead of her…Some of those spots I could fall off…[Once] I heard her go down a waterfall. I thought I lost her.”

His ears played tricks on him. He thought he heard music from a boom box once and tried to make his way towards the sound but soon found out that it was just water cascading and hitting the rocks.

“I walked and walked and crawled and fell down,” he described in a voice almost devoid of emotion. “The area had burned so the trees had slid. I had to crawl over [the downed trees], I had to climb over them…I was just praying….I started slipping and I grabbed a fir tree. I thought I was going to freeze to death.”

He kept fighting because he felt he had to survive. “[I] was pissed I was letting my 9-year-old son down and not coming home.”

But then it started getting light. Porter said, “I could see my feet. I couldn’t give up. I knew they’d be looking for me…I had the sardines. I must have them in my hunting jacket for years. I knew they were good.” He tried to eat them but he was nauseous. “I almost threw up,” he said. “I gave one to each dog.” Eventually, he forced himself to eat them.

He said he walked for miles. In one spot, he saw where a cat had pushed a road across the creek. He had to make a choice and go either left or right. He went left scraping arrows in the dirt for searchers to find.

“I hiked about four miles,” he explained and then realized that he was going the wrong directions. “I was up on top…Son of a bitch.” He had to hike back the way he came. “All the arrows I scraped on the road…I had to go back and change them.”

Once in a sunny spot he fell asleep. He awoke with a start to the sound of a plane. He thinks it was a search plane. He tried to signal it using the sun and a glass bottle he had found overnight and put in his pocket for that purpose but the searchers didn’t see him.

“I walked down that road and crossed the stream multiple times,” he said. He heard his dad tell him what to do when he got lost, “Go downstream, there is always somebody and it keeps you from going in circles.”

Eventually he saw a utility pole and lines. “I walked for miles and miles and miles. He saw several structures but none with anyone in them.

Eventually he heard a chainsaw off in the distance. He had to climb a hill to get to the source of the sound. “There was a guy running a saw,” he said. He didn’t want to scare the guy so he stayed a distance away and whistled. “I knew I looked bad…I have a camouflage jacket on and I’m all bloody.”

When the guy looked up and stopped the saw, he told him he’d been in a wreck on Hwy 36. “You must be confused,” Porter said the man told him. “Hwy 36 is 10 miles away.”

The man contacted 911 and unwilling to wait Porter kept walking until he met up with emergency crews on the road. “I walked down until I could hear engines coming,” he said. The Cal Fire crewmember looked at him and said, ‘You’re the guy we’re looking for.”

Porter was still disoriented and has trouble remembering all the details but he does know the emergency personnel started to help him. “The ambulance [crewmember] got me some blankets…I told them I wasn’t leaving without my dogs…Ambulance driver cleaned them up with the towels…She even got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the dogs up with a towel. The CHP officer let the dogs in the back of his vehicle….They were kind people. ”

Porter said he was taken to the hospital and there he learned that family and friends had been looking for him all night.

He called what he went through “18 hours of Cold Hell.” But, in spite of all the suffering, he’s grateful for everyone who tried to help.

I would like to thank Elijah Burke and Weston Downs for searching all night and morning [as well as my] brother and family…and my persist step brother Chris Arnold for harassing everyone in the county to help find me,” Porter said. He also thanked Brad and Jen Jack’s, as well as Colt Amen who also helped search. His parents and his niece, Hannah Arnold, who “have been there 24/7.” He is very grateful also, he said, to Cal Fire, Trinity Life Support and the CHP including the planes and the helitack. “[The] Chp officer had upmost respect for myself and dogs along with Cal Fire.”

He explained that he was still confused about all the details–“I’m bruised from my feet to my face”–but it was good waking up with his “angel” girlfriend holding his hand and crying and his family at his bedside.

“Now I’m looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills,” he told us as he only had $10,000 in medical insurance on his vehicle policy. “But if I didn’t have the power and knowledge to survive, I’d be dead.”

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67 comments

  • Local Steelhead Fisherman

    Epic story, glad you survived. I have a hard time understanding why he didn’t walk up the hill toward the road where his truck careened off the edge? Maybe it was the concussion that made him confused. Bummer he had sub par insurance, I just upgraded to full coverage with higher limits, realized its worth the money. Medical bills can get crazy even after a small accident, the minimum coverages aren’t near enough to protect your assets if you get or cause an accident.

    • That area of hwy where he crashed is pretty vertical, rocky and loose, I would imagine getting up to the highway would be almost impossible. Glad to hear he made it out of there alive.

    • Lost Croat Outburst

      I was wondering the same thing. Concussion and shock could easily explain his long cross-country trek vs. just climbing back up the embankment he just rolled off of and flagging down another rig. Glad he made it!

    • Concussion will do that to you. Makes me wonder how many concussed people have walked to their deaths looking for phantom sirens.

    • Extremely steep slopes covered in slow are very difficult to climb up

  • We are so poor at appreciating the things animals do for us. Glad you made it man, and give those doggos some steaks!

  • Crazy glad he made it! I’m curious if they found the truck first? obviously not always but usually it’s best to stay with the vehicle.

  • Good Job Dana,
    You learned well, and earned your Jim Bridger Badge! Glad you and your Fur friends all survived in spite of the jerk not stopping, after running you off the road.

  • Use “cold hell” again

  • Harrowing. Navigational note for steep country : follow the ridges not the creeks. Stay high. A creek can lead you many miles from where you intend to go. Good on you to have the (not so) common sense to keep your body moving. Canine companions are a big help.

    • Thank you for your tips. They might just save my life.

    • Yes, the “follow the stream down back to civilization” is great advice… for the East Coast. And probably the mid-west.

      Around here, if you haven’t noticed, a lot of our bigger streams and rivers are in some gnarly bedrock canyons that would be extremely difficult if not impossible to traverse. Around here, if you’re lost it’s generally best to head uphill and follow the ridge lines. A lot of ridges have roads on them. And if nothing else, you might be able to see something and get your bearings. Or signal aircraft more easily. Or get a cell signal!

  • Dana, what an experience for someone to go thru. You have the “good ones” and its a -ucking miracle you survived!!!! Your dogs were the positive deciding factor. Awesone and a good example for others to read and remember. No one travelling on a mountain road in the dark, rock slide(s), and unexpected hazards should think “not going to happen to me”. Fantastic support by all individuals and departments to make this a 2020 success story.Ron-you raised him good and he listened.
    D.G.

  • Damn, Dana! I remember riding around in your yellow Toyota back in high school! Glad you made it through that nightmare!

  • OMG- Dana that is crazy! So great to hear you are ok! Those Doggos are the best!

    Wow!!!

  • Harrowing indeed! Thank God you survived with your trusty dogs, people drive so crazy on that road and ALL of 36 clear to the Coast! With sharp curves, deep slopes, landslides, ice, extraordinary views and lots of wildlife…people please please please listen to this man’s story! A few years back on Christmas Eve Caltrans found my elderly Father had careened off of the road on this same stretch, by the Grace of God he survived and is fine.

  • Glad he made it!👍

  • That was my brother on the chainsaw should of stayed and got warm. Glad you made it safe. What a story to tell the grand kids one day. I’ve walked all that country, a lot of steep loose ground. Several people in that area haven’t been able to tell a tale again after an accident there.

  • The acorn does not land far from the tree. Glad you made it!

  • Government Cheese

    Awesome. Survival skills and outdoor knowledge is a dying art. Millennials can’t even survive without a phone for 18 hours, let alone survive in the woods in the dead of winter with nothing but the clothes on there back. Been lost hunting with nothing but the bare essentials in the rain . Cold. But will power and not panicking helps.A gun,a knife and a lighter will get you far. I always try to have them on me. Bravo chap!

    • I’ll bet you don’t even know the actual age group of millennials.

      • Government Cheese

        Don’t need to.
        Prius’s. Bernie stickers.Birkenstock’s.Starbucks triple de caf brevas. Nose ring. Imagine Dragons CD. Pink hair (boy or girl) and a thirst for having someone else save the day due to lack of physical and emotional characteristics. Millennials in a nutshell

        • C’mon…stop with this ageism. Two of my kids are milleniels… They don’t have or do any of that (They may vote for Bernie but no stickers). One, the other or both, cut firewood, drive heavy equipment, volunteer to fix the local road, hunt, get straight A’s, fix flat tires for their grandmother, drive their grandfather, build entire buildings, put on roofs and make a couple of fantastic wines.

          Unless we stop sneering at groups and look for what individuals do, we’re doomed as a species.

          • Remember how back in the day, the signs said “hippies use side door”? Stereotyping a generation then (Vietnam vets versus hippies versus straights versus Jesus freaks) is the same playbook of divide and conquer being used now with new divisions to demonize. Abraham Lincoln said “A house divided against itself will not stand.”

            What the trolls miss is that it’s more important to stand together and support a brave young man and his two great dogs today.

            That’s where every real person is. Grateful for not another funeral and another roadside cross.

            With greatest politeness could I ask that everyone think before posting, now and forever? Don’t take the troll bait. If you can’t say something nice, wait an hour and see how it feels later.

            And remember, like school, this is on the permanent record, there is no privacy on the internet. >.<

          • Well said. The us versus them mentality has got to go.

          • Government Cheese

            Just my dark sarcasm showing through kym. I can smear my generation X if need be? Toyota sports car driving. High top nike wearing. Zima drinking. Flannel sporting. Motley Crue CD in there Walkman. Hair sprayed hair (boy or girl). Shitty tattoos and a thirst for revolution inspired by a computer glitch of too many zeros all the while sucking down B grade cocaine in there moms basement. Wait…… that was me!

          • You’re right Kym! I’m sure glad Dana made it! Gotta love those dogs!

        • Him.thatdude.thatcracka

          Ok boomer. Thanks for ruining everything for us millennials and then talking shit about us in completely irrelevant circumstances. [edit]

  • Was a great tale, and you lived to tell it! Congratulations and thanks for posting your inspirational story! WTG!

    PS: Dodge on dodge crime is a no no…

  • Concerned Citizen

    What an amazing heart wrenching story and thank our god for protecting this man. Thankful he is alive to tell his story.

  • Give thanks.

    • AMEN! There was a power higher than mere mortals protecting you and your fur pals then. God works in mysterious ways. SO glad you are ok!

  • Dana glad to hear that you are ok. Man what an ordeal.

  • Heck of an experience Mr. Porter, glad for you and your family and friends that this was an epic survival!!!!

    The only time I have ever been on a jury was for a drunken driving charge and the trial was in the Weaverville Court house in the early 1980s.

    The story was that a local fellow was driving near Wildwood, his tire blew out, a never seen again and previously unknown dog startled, the dog jammed between his leg and the gas pedal, and the vehicle went off the road and hit a tree. A “Good Samaritan” came upon the fellow who had a big head bump from the wreck and took him to the Wildwood Inn where the head bump and other injuries were treated with mass quantities of alcohol.

    CHP, a Trinity county deputy, and an ambulance with two EMTs came to the Wildwood Inn. These authorities plus the local fellow’s friends at the Wildwood Inn were the witnesses. The dramatic point of the trial was when the woman EMT testified that he was highly intoxicated. She responded she could tell because of the smell and how he acted. Before saying the action to the court she whispered her response in the ear of the judge who directed her to tell the courtroom. When she had approached the fellow to assess his condition, he had commented on her breasts, groped her, and said, “Kiss me Honey, I’m sterile”. The fellow on trial broke into a smile and he looked surprised and proud. The trial had become a farce.

    While his blood alcohol after arrest was over twice the legal limit, the question was had he drunk mass quantities of alcohol before or only after the accident at the Wildwood Inn. The CHP, Trinity Deputy, and EMTs has slightly different accounts but their timelines differed significantly and the prosecutor had not been well prepared for the trial. We elected a jury foreman whose first statement was that the prosecutor had not proved the case in his opinion. On first vote we all voted to acquit most of us certain he was in fact guilty.

    • Let me get this straight. You thought he was guilty. But voted to acquit.

      I would really like to know why. Did you think the possible sentence was unreasonable for the alleged crime? I mean, it was more or less a victimless crime.

      I’m just asking, because if what you say is true, this is exactly why we have juries! If the 12 citizens say, “Meh. It’s okay.” then I think it prevents misuse of existing laws.

      Primates are big on “fair”. If you didn’t think it was fair, then I’m with you.

      • Bug on a Windshield

        As a juror, you can think the accused is guilty, but, if the D.A. doesn’t show or prove reasonable doubt, then you acquit. It’s the law. Not always fair, but, OrleansNative showed that they, and all of us, weren’t just a bunch of pitchfork wielding, easily swayed, mob folk.

        • Jury nullification. The last bastion of the free Republic.

          “In other words, it’s “we the people” who can and should be determining what laws are just, what activities are criminal and who can be jailed for what crimes.

          Not only should the punishment fit the crime, but the laws of the land should also reflect the concerns of the citizenry as opposed to the profit-driven priorities of Corporate America.

          This is where the power of jury nullification is so critical: to reject inane laws and extreme sentences and counteract the edicts of a profit-driven governmental elite that sees nothing wrong with jailing someone for a lifetime for a relatively insignificant crime.

          Of course, the powers-that-be don’t want the citizenry to know that it has any power at all.”

          https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/not_guilty_the_power_of_nullification_to_counter_government_tyranny

          • Bug on a Windshield

            Can always trust Ullr to correct me on the law. Thanks, seriously.

            Still, though, seems like a person might get hung or shot long before any evidence comes out or they ever get to trial, based on comments, not just on this thread, but, well, all threads and stories. And, as a jury, we have to put aside feelings a go with evidence, lest we become like some countries currently in the news where 95% of accused are convicted. This opens the gate for “swatters”.

            • I was only trying to expand on your sentiments not correct them.

              Jury nullification is so important for People to be aware of I can’t overstate it. The whole point of a jury is a stop gap between spurious laws and the attempts by the government to force them on the People.

              • Bug on a Windshield

                Umm, oops. Misreading and misunderstanding are sure symptoms of rushing through comments as well as hurrying to get in one last comment myself before running out the door.

  • Dana survived a boat accident in the bay while hunting ducks a few years ago. Damn near drowned.He must have 9 lives. Glad hes ok.

  • Sleepy Alligator

    considering it’s dark outside at 5:30pm and it was an oncoming vehicle with its headlights coming at him how does he know the first truck was a “black suburban that was brand new but all muddy”?

    • I just came home in the dark (granted I was a passenger but I remember this being true when I was driving also) and I could tell quite a few things about a vehicle as it went past.

      • Well I’m rarely a passenger but when I am I notice all kinds of stuff I don’t see when I’m driving. Even in places I have driven by thousands of times. I wasn’t questioning the guy’s truthfulness, I’m just intrigued by how he remembers that truck in such detail but doesn’t know if the other truck hit his or not. I just hope the two trucks he remembers weren’t actually his cell phone.

    • Sounds like you just might drive s black suburban thar buddy

      • If I do then it sounds like you might drive a white dodge. Do you see how that just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever?

  • Wow! What an ordeal! Seriously, I always keep a survival kit in my Vehicles. Water, flash light, food, emergency blankets, matches + fire starter, poncho, lighters, compass, charged battery banks, Small first aid kit. The seatbelt slasher/hammer is crucial! You just never know! Must have an Angel on his shoulder! Glad him and fur buddies are ok!

  • The guy with the chainsaw was my son….Lives out 13 dips. He called 911.
    Dana had walked some miles!!!!Glad he safe!And his dogs!My son told me about it and was shocked to see a stranger there.Thirteen dips has a large mountain lion roaming and Dana was blessed that he didn’t cross roads with that cat.He is definitely a Survivor. Raised right!!!

  • Dana Porter is such a lieing POS. He loves to hype up everything. He was probably going to fast and lost control. Everyone that knows this loser, knows he’s full of shit. You can always pick apart his exaggerated stories because they change to seem better every time he tells them. I’m surprised he didn’t have to fight off a bear with his pocket knife.

    • [edit] This guy was in a crash and you want to talk shit.

    • Truely a POS. First there was his house fire. Whoa is me campaign in the Times Standard. Send me money. Then the boating accident in the bay. His cell phone was miraculously keep dry so he could call the coast guard. Whoa is me again. Send me money. Now this!!!! Whoa is me my ass. Anyone who has EVER had contact with this guy gets screwed in the end. I wonder what “whoa is me” event will be next?

      • My hinky meter went off when I first read this detailed account . Too detailed. Thanks for perspective, people are easily fooled. But once you’ve been fooled, or taken and maybe left for trash you are much less gullible .

  • A can of sardines in one pocket an a can of spam in the other?! Glad all turned out well.

  • Nice to hear he made it, this is a great reason why everybody should keep a small emergency kit in their car . A few energy bars,Fire Starting equipment, water bottle with a filter built in ,rubber-coated mylar blanket, flashlight and a small comprehensive first aid kit.

  • Concussion that’s what messed his mind all up I’m sure the shock and the cold did not help as well as his injury’s I’m glad he had the know how to still keep moveing in the cold and continueing to move build a fire and lucky he had that flash light and that can good and the coat he was wearing probably saved his life good job and good job on staying head strong

  • Wow what a story, I cannot imagine how long that 18 hours really felt!!
    Brought me to tears, so glad your dogs were ok and with you. You are a serious survivor!!!!
    Plus you sold me on getting a seat belt cutter and car window breaker. What a great gift to give your kids!

    Please let us know if theres a fundraiser to help with medical costs.

  • Dana Porter is truly a POS. First there was the house fire. He had the Times Standard publish an article “whoa is me”, send me money. Then there was the boat accident in the bay where he miraculously kept his cell phone dry and called the coast guard. Another “whoa is me” story, send me money. Now this? People are getting tired of the “whoa is me ” campaign. What’s next? Anyone who knows this guy would have a hard time telling if he had a concussion because he is a bumbling idiot anyway. Want to get screwed out of money? Get to know Dana.

  • I am not familiar with those stories. Do you have a link or anything to back up your claims?

  • did find the article about the earthquake and subsequent house fire, though not sure that in itself makes him a POS.

  • Love you uncle dana glad your ok i miss you and wish u the best hope your ear is ok

  • Bug on a Windshield

    Wow. A story worthy of the next edition of “Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul.”

    Proof that a Dog does exist. Dog definitely works in mysterious plays and had mercy on your soul.

    Blue Heelers and their sticks. Mm hmm hmm. Wouldn’t give up mine for the world. But, might consider a Lab buddy for her. Not sure she’d appreciate sharing me with another Dog, though.

    Glad all’s well.

  • Janette Pilkington

    This story brought tears to my eyes. I watch a show on The Weather Channel called SOS: How to Survive and they have recreations of amazing survival stories just like this. Very happy to know you and your dogs are okay!

  • “Now im looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills”
    How so?

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