Roderick Paul Clifton, who loved the outdoors, couldn't resist pulling off of the highway onto a snowy trail leading to a vista point in the Sierra Nevada. It would prove to be a fateful decision.
On Thursday, authorities confirmed that Clifton, 44, was found dead in the mountains Wednesday night, six days after he and his girlfriend went missing while driving to Gardnerville, Nev., after visiting Clifton's family in Citrus Heights. He died in deep snow, hiking out for help after their vehicle was stranded.
Paula Lane, 46, of Gardnerville was being treated Thursday at a Carson City hospital for non-life-threatening injuries and hypothermia suffered after Clifton's 1989 Jeep Cherokee got stuck.
Citrus Heights police spokesman Officer Bryan G. Fritsch said the couple were "four-wheel driving" and sightseeing when their car became stranded. He said they spent the night in the vehicle and Clifton took off hiking the next morning.
Clifton's niece, Monica Clifton, said Clifton had driven around a gate to Burnside Road near the junction of highways 88 and 89 south of Lake Tahoe and traveled five miles, heading toward a mountain overlook.
"He had just put in a new lift kit on his Jeep and I'm thinking he was trying it out," she said at the Citrus Heights family home, where Clifton had grown up. She said her uncle, an electrician who had attended San Juan High School, was "an adventurer" who loved the wilderness.
The couple's disappearance they had been due back in Gardnerville on Nov. 29 deeply worried friends and family and prompted an air, vehicle and foot search by law enforcement and volunteers as snowstorms blanketed the Sierra.
A greeting, still on the answering machine of Clifton's mother, Lois Clifton, on Thursday spoke to loved ones' distress: "This message is to my family and my friends with an update on Rod. There is no good news. He is still missing. They're still out looking for him. I pray to God they find him."
Police say a relative found Lane walking along Highway 88 Wednesday evening after she eventually left the vehicle. She was transported to the hospital, and Clifton's body was found in heavy snow.
Monica Clifton said her uncle, who leaves three daughters, "was a great guy who was willing to help everyone." She said he was "good with his hands, a good outdoorsman and very caring."