When John McLean Love fell down a 15-foot-deep hole at a construction site near his home, he broke his ankle and likely couldn’t get out, according to newly released documents from Love’s missing person and death investigations.
Searchers found the 60-year-old retired Bend firefighter lying on his side, his head resting on his beanie, his body frozen and partially covered in snow and dirt, according to a Bend Police investigation report. An empty water bottle that smelled of alcohol was found under Love’s legs, the report states, and his cellphone in its bright blue case was at the top of the hole, where a construction crew had begun filling it with dirt.
Love had been missing for five days by the time he was discovered Feb. 11. How long he was alive in the hole is unknown, but temperatures since he was last seen never got above freezing.
“Love’s body was in a position at the bottom of the hole that would indicate that he was previously alive where he was located,” the report states.
Love’s life ended cold and alone, a tragedy for a man who made a career saving others. He was a Bend firefighter for nearly 19 years and was the department’s volunteer coordinator when he retired in 2016. As Love’s whereabouts sparked concern among family and friends, they described a man who was depressed and addicted to opioids and alcohol, the Bend Police report states.
On Feb. 20, the Deschutes County District Attorney’s office closed its investigation into Love’s death, finding no foul play had occurred. But reports from Bend Police into Love’s death and disappearance, and an arrest report by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, offer more details on a case that has troubled many in and around Bend.
On the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 10, a supervisor briefed Bend Police officers on a new missing person case. John Love had not arrived at a scheduled meetup with his wife Feb. 9. His phone was going straight to voicemail and no one had heard from him in four days. Friends started circulating worried messages on Facebook.
The officers were given a profile of Love. He had many camping spots in the area and he owned several rental properties. He was frugal with his money and loved being outside. He kept in close contact with his two sons — one in college and one in high school.
According to a Bend Police search report, John and Cindy Love were going through a divorce and he was splitting his time between their home in Bend and his girlfriend’s house east of Los Angeles.
“Cynthia stated John was depressed and addicted to opioids,” a Bend Police report states. “John did not make any suicidal statements leading to his disappearance. John usually stays in touch with his children and they also have not heard from him.”
Love was last seen alive in the early morning of Feb. 6. He’d driven his van off the road in Alfalfa and, after being transported by a Bend Fire Department ambulance to St. Charles Bend, his blood alcohol level was recorded at 0.20. Love received a citation for DUII at the hospital. He was discharged at 2:08 a.m., and 20 minutes later, he is seen on surveillance footage leaving in a cab from Owl Taxi.
Cab driver Joshuah Peters told police he took Love straight to Love’s house on St. Cloud Court.
Love had been quiet on the drive home, Peters told Bend Police. Love paid the fare with his credit card, leaving a 25 percent tip, then walked up the driveway toward the house, where he still kept a room.
Cindy Love told Bend officers she wasn’t sure if he had come inside the house after being dropped off. His winter clothing and boots were still inside the house. She wasn’t aware her husband had gotten a DUII the night he went missing.
She told police her husband liked to walk and stargaze in the Juniper Ridge area and nearby Rockridge Park.
Bend Police say the last time Cindy Love heard from him was 3:45 a.m. Feb. 6, when he texted her. A few minutes later, he would send the same message to his sons and his sister: “I love you.”
Concern sets in
Police next interviewed Bend Fire Capt. Jeff Blake. He told detectives Love lost contact with many of his former co-workers but now they were worried about him. He thought it possible Love would be embarrassed by the DUII and being transported to the hospital by the agency that once employed him.
On the morning of Monday, Feb. 11, as local agencies issued a public call for information on Love’s whereabouts, teams with dogs searched the area near his house while police collected DNA samples and financial and cellphone data. At about 2 p.m., someone spotted a human arm and a leg sticking from the ground in a hole at a construction site a half-mile from Love’s house.
It was Love.
The site, across the street from Les Schwab’s corporate headquarters and surrounded by temporary fencing, is in the preliminary stages of earthwork for an office project. The hole was about 20 feet in diameter and “jagged” with exposed rocks, according to a missing-person report written by Bend Police Detective Russell Skelton.
An investigator with the Oregon medical examiner’s office, Marie Sundberg, arrived and climbed into the hole with Skelton. Together, they removed earth and snow from Love’s body. They found abrasions on his head, consistent with Love’s reported injuries in the DUII crash, and he wore the same green puffy jacket and gray jeans he had been seen wearing.
In the hole, Sundberg noted Love’s left ankle was broken, “possibly from the fall into the hole,” Skelton wrote.
Hours later, Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Mangin, who arrested Love, closed the office’s DUII investigation into the former firefighter. The Bulletin learned Mangin was later disciplined by Sheriff Shane Nelson for procedural policy violations in Love’s arrest.
Mangin wrote in his report Love was unable to perform roadside sobriety tests “due to his medical needs.” So at 8:40 p.m., Love was taken to St. Charles Bend for treatment and to test his blood for intoxicants, according to the report.
At 10:04 p.m. — two hours after the crash — Mangin returned to patrol, leaving Love at the hospital, according to the DUII report.
Most often in DUII arrests, the subject is taken to jail. Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. William Bailey said some misdemeanor DUII arrestees — especially those who require medical care at a hospital — will receive a citation and are released from custody.
“It’s really a case-by-case basis,” Bailey said.
A spokesperson for St. Charles said the hospital cannot provide information about Love’s time there due to patient-privacy laws. Speaking generally about hospital policy, St. Charles chief of emergency medicine William Reed said St. Charles patients are free to leave at any time so long as a physician has not determined they lack decision-making capacity.
“It comes down to if you’re able to make competent decisions for yourself,” Reed said. “If you’re able to walk and not stagger, and if you’re able to understand your injuries and the consequences of your injuries, you should be good to go.”
It’s common that a person being discharged from the hospital is unable to drive. In these instances, the hospital has a list of approved taxi services to contact. Once a ride is on its way, security personnel will ensure the patient makes it safely into the vehicle. Staff will always first ask if there’s a friend or relative who can pick the patient up, Reed said.
At the end of Mangin’s shift, he logged two pieces of evidence — vials containing samples of Love’s blood.
On Feb. 10, Mangin was notified by a Bend Police officer that Love hadn’t been heard from since the night of his DUII arrest.
The next day, Feb. 11, Mangin logged additional evidence in the Love DUII case. At 7:47 a.m., he recorded a Hydroflask containing a liquid smelling like tequila, taken from Love’s jacket at the hospital. At 9:30 a.m., Mangin entered into evidence an empty prescription pill bottle found on the front seat of Love’s Sienna.
About an hour later, authorities asked the public for help finding Love, and his body was found shortly after.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office — and most law enforcement agencies — have policies requiring officers to log evidence in a case as soon as reasonably possible. This is to prove that all property seized by officers is under their agency’s control at all times. The DCSO’s policy is that evidence must be recorded by the end of a deputy’s shift.
Contacted for this article, the sheriff’s office said there are “justifiable” reasons for not entering evidence at the end of a shift. Mangin had said he wanted to ask a supervisor whether the liquid inside the Hydroflask should be tested, according to sheriff’s spokesman Bailey, who acknowledged wrongdoing on Mangin’s part.
“The evidence in that temporary locker should have been documented,” Bailey said. “That has been addressed by a supervisor and corrected.”
Cindy Love declined to be interviewed for this story.
She told Bend Police during the missing-person search that her husband was trying to wean himself off his pain medications without help from a doctor.
The day before his crash, Cindy Love said she talked with John about getting help for his addictions, but he expressed concerns about looking “weak,” according to one of the Bend Police reports.
Representatives of the Bend Fire Department have also been tight-lipped about Love since his disappearance.
To cope with years of traumatic calls and long shifts, many first responders turn to drugs or alcohol. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, firefighters suffer post-traumatic stress disorder at levels comparable to combat veterans.
One of Love’s longtime friends, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter, said that as firefighters and police transition into retirement, they can struggle to find a new mission in life after decades committed to saving others.
Love and Porter began their careers in Bend around the same time in the 1990s, when staffing levels in emergency services weren’t nearly where they are today, Porter said. Cops and firefighters responded together far more often — on all types of calls, at all times of the day.
Porter was “always relieved” when he arrived at a call and saw John Love already there.
“He was a genuinely nice guy — a constant professional who was caring for those in crisis and always maintained a positive attitude,” Porter said.
Love’s memorial service was reportedly well-attended, with many first responders present.
“It was a true celebration of life,” Porter said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org