MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Wisconsin man who spent four hours buried at the end of his driveway in more than two feet of snow after going to his mailbox during this week’s blizzard says he just closed his eyes and wondered if it would be the day he died.
In hindsight, Joe Latta questioned his sanity and recalled thinking that “maybe this is it.”
“I was wondering if it was the end of my life and that maybe I’ll see God,” Latta said, as hours passed with snow packed around him.
The 66-year-old Janesville resident said he walked through deep snow to retrieve his mail and check for his newspaper about 5 a.m. Wednesday. As he turned to return to his house, Latta lost his footing and fell.
“There I was, lying on my backside and there was this snow. I tried to get up, but couldn’t do it,” said Latta, who lives alone. Then a snowplow rumbled by, the driver never spotting Latta in the deep snow. The plow’s spray buried Latta, leaving only a gloved hand free. Latta thought someone would eventually find him. Hours later, Latta started losing hope.
“I just closed my eyes and wondered if I would die,” he said.
About 9 a.m., neighbor Betsy Nelson looked out her window and spotted what she thought was a little animal jumping in Latta’s snow bank. Nelson retrieved her binoculars and spotted the glove, then she called another neighbor, off-duty firefighter Todd Herrington. He crossed the street and found Latta’s hand inside the glove. Herrington started digging, but said he didn’t expect to find his neighbor alive. Latta’s nose and eyes were packed with snow.
“That’s all I saw was a face that was like in a snow coffin and stuff, just a face in the snow,” Herrington told WMTV-TV in Madison.
Janesville Police Officer Todd Schumann was one of the first to respond to the scene. Schumann said Latta “was frozen stiff and shivering,” but was conscious. There were no footprints leading to the house, so Schumann knew Latta had been buried for a while. Schumann said Latta was under 29 inches of snow.
Latta was taken to Mercy Hospital in Janesville until his body temperature was stabilized and he was sent home.
Surviving four hours in a snow bank can depend on varying factors, according to Mercy Health urgent care nurse practitioner Susan Ipsen.
“If the person is young or old, the odds fall. If the person is wet they lose more heat,” Ipsen said.
Latta said that as he looks back on his ordeal, he realizes it was foolish to attempt to reach his mailbox in the blizzard.
“It was enough to make me question my sanity,” Latta said.
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