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By Steve Schulz, Forum Communications Co., Published February 18 2010

Sebeka paraplegic dies of exposure

SEBEKA, Minn. – A 39-year-old paraplegic man died from exposure after a personal care attendant and a garbage man found him lying in the snow.

Michael Lee Johnson of Sebeka was found outdoors at his residence by the two about 8 a.m. Tuesday, said Wadena County Sheriff Michael D. Carr. The two contacted emergency responders and tried to keep Johnson warm by covering him in blankets.

Johnson was alone at the home and had apparently gone outside in his wheelchair to cool off, Carr said. By the time he was discovered, he was in extreme hypothermia and had a recorded body temperature in the low 70s. He was rushed to Tri-County Hospital in Wadena, where he later died.

After testing his motorized wheelchair, the battery was found to be dead, Carr said. Johnson either fell out of the chair or attempted to leave the chair and crawl back to the house.

Johnson had no movement in his legs and very limited movement in his arms, Carr said.

An autopsy is being conducted in Fergus Falls, and while the results aren’t back, Carr said the medical examiner has indicated exposure to the elements, frostbite and hypothermia caused Johnson’s death.


Steve Schulz is a reporter at the Wadena (Minn.) Pioneer Journal, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.