WATERLOO — Four days of searching through farm fields and backwoods in sweltering heat and torrential rains came to an end when Larry Lehman of Marion stepped out of his pickup Friday around 11 a.m.
Lehman, who locates underground utility lines for BDC Group, noticed a man wearing what appeared to be a bike helmet in a shallow drainage ditch.
The man wearing the helmet — a fall protection helmet for seizures — was Mike Jensen, 45, a former Wartburg College music instructor, who had been missing for almost a week after climbing out the window at Ravenwood Care Center, where he lives.
The ditch where he was found is about three-fourths of a mile from the care center.
“I’m super excited, not that he was in that situation, but that we found him alive and that he lives for another day,” Lehman said.
Family members on Friday said Jensen is in serious condition at MercyOne Medical Center in Waterloo.
Jensen suffers from a brain tumor that causes seizures and requires round-the-clock supervision and care.
He also is prone to running away, authorities said. He climbed out the window of his room at Ravenwood on Monday and disappeared into the night.
Earlier searches in the immediate area around the care center came up empty, and the operation was moved to Janesville, a small town northeast of Waterloo, on Wednesday after what appeared to be credible sightings that placed Jensen south of the town.
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Lehman’s discovery came as some 200 people trudged through thickly wooded areas and partially flooded fields north of Cedar Falls, the most daunting terrain yet in the hunt for Jensen.
Instead, Jensen was found in the ditch near a drainage culvert — among weeds and 8-foot tall cattails. His head was out of the water, but his arms and legs were in the creek, Lehman said.
“I just saw the helmet, and I saw the head,” said Lehman, who called 911.
Lehman flagged down a passing driver to help move Jensen. That driver recognized Jensen from news accounts.
“I think he was just in a state because as soon as they got him up there and started talking to him, his eyes opened up,” Lehman said. “He was breathing and everything.”