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Wheelchair-bound Sebeka man dies of exposure

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

Wadena County Sheriff Michael D. Carr said Michael Lee Johnson was found outdoors at his residence by a personal care attendant and his garbage man around 8 a.m. Tuesday. 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 yet, Carr said the medical examiner has indicated exposure to the elements, frostbite and hypothermia caused Johnson's death.

The case is still under investigation by the Wadena County Sheriff's Office and Wadena County Coroner Tom Speed. Sebeka first responders and Tri-County Ambulance assisted at the scene.