Teen's Sudden Mental Collapse Ended in a National Park

Ty Sauer's New Jersey family tracked him to Virginia with an app, but he couldn't be saved
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 4, 2022 1:35 PM CDT
Teen Vanished Into US Park, His Family in Pursuit
Photo shows a view of mountains in the Shenandoah National Park.   (Getty/Douglas Rissing)

Ty Sauer was “acting strangely.” On a Monday, the 18-year-old texted his mom to ask why she had sent aliens to his job at a discount store. The next day, he told someone he was talking to his deceased grandfather. On Wednesday, he fell into a catatonic state, followed by a seizure. At the hospital, Ty’s drug screen came back negative, and he was soon discharged, though his parents wanted him held overnight. Before his mom could get him to another doctor, he stole her car keys and took off. This was April 2021, and according the Washington Post’s Lizzie Johnson, tragedy followed, but only after a 300-mile car chase from New Jersey to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. The family used an app to track Ty’s cellphone, and they caught up to him at an overlook on the park's winding Skyline Drive—only to see him speed away, crash into a wall, and flee into the wilderness.

A four-day search ensued involving rangers, volunteers, and bloodhounds. But the tall, muscular football player—also an avid biker and hiker—defied typical behavior patterns, bushwhacking miles through dense laurel and shedding clothes as he went. They found him leaning against a tree, where he’d died of exposure in the frigid night. As to reasons why, Ty’s family suspects isotretinoin, a drug prescribed for severe acne. When he started taking it that January, he and his mom signed a waiver acknowledging that “some patients … have become depressed or developed other serious mental problems,” but that “no one knows if isotretinoin caused these behaviors.” The family consulted with lawyers but will not be suing; lawyers told them proving a link between the medication and what happened would be difficult, and he signed the waiver to boot. Read the whole story here. (More Shenandoah National Park stories.)

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