Arthur Morris, 88, slid their car down an embankment 60 feet from their vacation home on May 3 in Andes, about 115 miles northwest of New York City, according to state police and relatives.
"They must have skidded or something. They were going very slowly? went over the embankment," Robert Jeantet, their son, said.
Other family members said Friday that Morris tried to get out but became wedged between the tilted car and the ground and was asphyxiated. His wife, 89-year-old Madeleine, walked with her cane to an empty neighbor's house and died of exposure after a rainy night sheltering under a tarp on the patio. Her family didn't know whether she also had tried walking home.
"She walked a quarter-mile to the neighbor's house and there was no one there," Madeleine's grandson Jeantet Fields told the New York Daily News, which first reported the story. "It was a vacation house and they had left the day before."
Cell service is spotty in the rural area and calls made by the couple to 911, Madeleine's son and a neighbor did not go through.
"The cell phone was for emergency use, and when the emergency came, it didn't work," Jeantet said.
Hunters found the husband's body the next day and searchers soon after found the wife's body on a neighbor's patio, according to police. The low temperature would have been about 48 degrees May 3 and it was raining, the National Weather Service in Binghamton said.
Arthur was a Juilliard-educated music teacher who had heart disease and a hernia. Madeleine was a retired professor who survived the Nazi occupation in France and had two knee replacements, the Daily News reported.
"What really has me choked up the most is the circumstances they died in," Fields said. "Given the lives they lived, they should have had a better way out than that."
Madeleine's son, Ronald Fields, told The Associated Press they'd been married for 49 years and met in Providence, R.I., where his step-father taught at a private school and his mother taught 18th century French culture at Brown University. She retired in 1990 from the City University of New York system.
"They were great people, extraordinary people," Fields said Friday.
"As a teacher, she tried to open people's minds," he said of his mother, describing how she brought to bear the lessons and experience of growing up in Europe between the world wars.
Morris was a "very private, reserved person" who taught music and music appreciation at a Long Island school district before retiring in the early 1970s. He enjoyed reading and the vacation cabin was full of books, Fields said.
He said the family agreed to share the story of his parents' deaths out of concern for others who may be put at risk by gaps in cell phone coverage.
"If some good can come out of her death, that will be something else she contributed to the world," he said of his mother.
Information from the Associated Press in this report.
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