Missing Minnesota man survives North Dakota blizzard in his vehicle, but then he's hit with tragic news

Barricades block 19th Avenue North on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in Fargo. Interstates 29 and 94 were also closed at the edge of the Metro area in all directions.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Barricades block 19th Avenue North on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in Fargo. Interstates 29 and 94 were also closed at the edge of the Metro area in all directions. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor Michael Vosburg

FARGO — A missing Minnesota man who was disoriented spent two nights in last week's blizzard and bitter cold in his vehicle in a ditch along a desolate rural road near Wheatland in eastern North Dakota.

William Jim Mendoza of Scandia, a town outside the Twin Cities, had hypothermia with a body temperature down to 90 degrees when he was found by a phone company worker, but he miraculously didn't have frostbite, said his wife, Vicki, on Thursday, Feb. 14, from her husband's hospital room in Fargo.

He had last been seen as the stormy weather was developing on Wednesday, Feb. 6, in Casselton on surveillance camera footage from Gordy's Travel Plaza as he was driving his 2013 Ford Explorer from Fargo to Bismarck on a business trip after last being heard from by his family on Monday, Feb. 4.

"We thought he was a goner," his wife said as the high temperature on Thursday, Feb. 7, was only 6 below and dipped to 9 below that night, with gusting winds and snow causing blizzard conditions.

Thanks to the phone company worker, he was found in the bitter cold Friday, Feb. 8, when the high was only about 11 below, along that road near Wheatland, which is about 7 miles west of Casselton.

William Jay Mendoza. Special to The Forum
William Jay Mendoza. Special to The Forum

"I guess he was confused and pulled off the road (Interstate 94) at the Wheatland exit in the stormy conditions," his wife said.

Her husband has diabetes, and she initially thought maybe he was disoriented because he hadn't taken his medicine.

However, from the joy of getting the miracle phone call that her husband had been found and their prayers answered, there was more worry and sadness just around the corner.

What happened was that as her husband was recovering from hypothermia at the Fargo hospital, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer.

"We went from one tragedy to another," Vicki said.

The doctors have told her that the cancer has spread to other parts of his body, including two spots on his brain, which led to swelling and likely was the cause of his disorientation.

So now she's just simply "hoping for the best" as her husband battles the cancer and the family returns to the Twin Cities area for more medical attention. They planned to head home on Friday, Feb. 15.