The following article appeared today in the print edition of the Imperial Valley Press:
PALO VERDE — Mixed martial arts star Evan Tanner was only 15 miles away from the town of Palo Verde when he apparently died from heat exhaustion in the open desert, a sheriff’s deputy said Tuesday.
The 37-year-old former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder was found Monday not far from his campsite in the Clapp Springs area of the Palo Verde mountains. Sheriff’s authorities confirmed the identification of Tanner’s body Tuesday.
Tanner, of Oceanside, carried bottles of water with him but they were empty, Imperial County sheriff’s Deputy Justin Hettich said.
Tanner’s supply of bottled water was exhausted at his campsite as well, Hettich said.
Contrary to online reports that say Tanner called a friend by cellular phone to report his motorcycle ran out of gas, Hettich and sheriff’s Lt. George Moreno said the motorcycle did have gas. Tanner brought his off-road bike for his camping trip.
Hettich said Tanner wore a black T-shirt and pants when a helicopter pilot from the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma spotted his body a couple of miles from where he camped.
Authorities suspect Tanner had died from exposure to sweltering weather conditions that reached more than 110 degrees, but an exact cause of death won’t be determined until after an autopsy is performed, Moreno said.
When Tanner, a native of Armarillo, Texas, failed to return text messages last week his friends reported him missing to sheriff’s officials Friday. His campsite was found Sunday.
Tanner’s campsite was about 60 miles northeast of Brawley, Moreno said.
“There was nothing surrounding it,” Moreno said of Tanner’s campsite.
Tanner had fought professionally since 1997 and was active with the UFC. He was also a heavyweight champion fighter for the Unified Shoot Wrestling Federation.
Claudia Ortega, who owns the Compound MMA in Oceanside with her husband, Frank, said Tanner stopped by her mixed martial arts club two weeks ago and had said he rented a house by the local pier.
But Ortega said Tanner was going on his desert trip to “center himself.” She called Tanner a “good guy, a champion and a phenomenal fighter.”
“It’s a sad day for MMA,” Ortega said. “He had a lot to give, a lot to offer. It’s a tragedy.”