In the News -
Friday, AUGUST 12, 2005
A Napa Valley Boy Scout troop leader and a 13-year-old Scout
were killed after lightning struck a shelter they had hastily erected
to protect them from a storm in the backcountry of Sequoia National Park.
Stephen McCullagh, 29, and Ryan Collins, 13, were with 10
other members — five adults and seven teenagers — of St. Helena’s
Troop 1 on Thursday evening, July 28, in the Sandy Meadow area of the
John Muir/High Sierra Trail (elevation 10,700 feet) when a severe storm
occurred, forcing the Scouts to seek shelter.
Such lightning storms are common in the Sierra this time
of year, and being struck by lightning is a very real hazard, although
deaths from lightning are rare.
Upon arrival of the storm, the Scouts spread out across Sandy
Meadow, which is about a mile away from the Crabtree Ranger Station. Two
Scouts took shelter in a tent and the others huddled beneath two tarps
— two beneath one and seven under the other.
Another Scout was running between the tarps when the lightning
bolt struck, hitting on or near the shelter where most of the Scouts,
including McCullagh and Collins, were huddled.
Those in the other shelters reported seeing all seven go
to the ground. Fellow Scouts, even those who were briefly stunned, immediately
began performing CPR on the pair and continued for more than an hour until
For McCullagh, it was too late. He was later pronounced dead
at the scene.
Two Scouts ran to the ranger station to report the incident,
but initial rescue efforts were hampered by weather conditions.
Five helicopters were eventually landed at the site. Ryan
was airlifted to University Medical Center in Fresno, where he died Friday
night. Family members said he had been declared brain-dead after his arrival,
but was kept on a ventilator so that his organs could be donated.
The Scouts, who were to end their 70-mile, nine-day hike
on Saturday, were led by Stuart Smith, a St. Helena winemaker and seasoned
backcountry adventurer whose teenage son, Tom, also was on the trip.
Smith had organized the CPR effort upon regaining consciousness
after being knocked out by the lightning. He had help from some of the
boys, all of whom were selected for the trip because of their advanced
McCullagh was a UC Davis graduate and controller at St. Helena’s
Terra Valentine winery who had a passion for scouting.
Ryan Collins would have been an eighth-grader at St. Helena’s Robert
Louis Stevenson Middle School.
Although an investigation is in progress, at this time it
appears that there is nothing the Scouts could have done differently to
prevent the tragedy.
This incident occurred just days after four Scout leaders
were electrocuted while putting up a tent at the National Boy Scout Jamboree
Also, on Tuesday, Aug. 2, just five days after the tragedy
in the High Sierra, lightning killed Paul Ostler, a 15-year-old Boy Scout,
at Camp Steiner in the Rockies when it struck the log shelter where he
and others were seeking refuge from the storm.
Located 60 miles east of Salt Lake City, the camp, at 10,400
feet elevation, is the highest Boy Scout camp in the nation. The cabin
would have been the safest place to be during the storm, so this incident,
too, was a rare event.
When Sequoia National Park rangers responded within minutes
to a report of two people struggling in the river, they arrived to find
that a bystander had pulled one of the potential victims to shore. Unfortunately,
another swimmer did not have the same luck.
The incident occurred Monday, Aug. 1, at a popular swimming
hole in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River near the Ash Mountain park
headquarters. It is the second drowning here and the Middle Fork’s
third casualty within the Sequoia National Park boundaries this year.
Rangers were on the scene immediately upon receiving word
that a young female and an adult male were having trouble getting out
of the water. Two specially-trained rangers entered the water to search
for the man and found him at the bottom of a deep pool about 30 feet below
Santos Aparecio, 44, of Los Angeles, had been underwater
for approximately 15 minutes when he was pulled from the river by rescuers.
He had no pulse and was not breathing. The rangers began CPR and used
an automated external defibrillator in attempt to start the victim’s
Aparecio was carried up the trail to a waiting ambulance
where advanced care and medication were administered by a park medic and
Three Rivers Ambulance EMTs.
The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
Nine people have perished in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National
Parks this year. And, in one way or another, all of the accidental deaths
have been weather-related:
Sunday, March 13— Richard Ferrari,
37, of Los Angeles fell 1,000 feet to his death in “The Notch”
area of Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park.
Sunday, April 10— Patrick Wang, 27,
of Hillsboro, Ore., sustained fatal injuries in a fall of about 1,000
feet, also near The Notch while returning from the 14,495-foot summit
of Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park.
Saturday, May 28— Bryan Coker of Lemoore
was celebrating his 21st birthday with friends when he drowned in the
Middle Fork of the Kaweah River in the Ash Mountain area of Sequoia National
Monday, June 27— The body of Peter
Spoecker, 64, of Joshua Tree was retrieved from Evolution Lake near the
John Muir Trail in Kings Canyon National Park. He either drowned or died
of hypothermia as early as Monday, June 13, after falling into the lake
wearing his backpack and snowshoes.
Monday, July 11— Noah Dominguez, 24,
of Wilmington drowned in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River near Buckeye
Flat Campground in Sequoia National Park.
Wednesday, July 13— Eric Rausch, 31,
of Princeton, N.J., apparently drowned while attempting to ford the Marble
Fork of the Kaweah River in the Tableland region of Sequoia National Park’s
Thursday, July 28— Stephen McCullagh,
29, and Ryan Collins, 13, both of St. Helena, died after they were struck
by lightning in the Sandy Meadow area (elevation 10,700 feet) along the
John Muir Trail in Sequoia National Park.
Monday, Aug. 1— Santos Aparecio, 44,
of Los Angeles, drowned in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River in the
Ash Mountain area of Sequoia National Park.
Enforcement teams are
gearing up for 2005
In what’s become an annual ritual in the Kaweah foothills
outside Three Rivers, Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies, Sequoia-Kings
Canyon park rangers, and state officers are planning the next assault
against a growing army of marijuana growers.
In 2004, more than 160,000 plants were eradicated in Tulare
County, which suddenly finds itself in the unenviable position of being
the leading pot-producing area in California.
Tulare County’s STEP (Sheriff’s Tactical Enforcement
Team) knows that their unit of eight detectives and one sergeant faces
a daunting task. According to one team member, they expect to eradicate
just as many gardens in 2005 as last year, maybe even more.
“So far this season,
we’ve already busted growing operations on private property off
Highway 245 [Badger] and on Forest Service land near Springville,”
said Sgt. John Gonzalez, a STEP spokesperson. “Currently, we are
conducting flyovers in the Kaweah drainage to locate areas that we need
It’s inevitable that new gardens will be discovered
in both Sequoia National Park and in areas along the Kaweah River outside
park boundaries. According to a park spokesperson, the new gate on the
Mineral King Road — which was placed at Cold Spring just below Lookout
Point in an effort to reduce the illegal marijuana cultivation within
the Sequoia Park boundaries — may have forced some of the growers
to hack out new sites farther down slope and closer to the Middle Fork
of the Kaweah River.
The late-season thaw and a spring that lasted into June enabled
growers to move into lower elevations that previously were lacking the
necessary water. Even the recent spate of triple-digit temperatures might
be aiding the growers by adding more potency to the crop and helping the
plants mature ahead of schedule.
SIGNS OF THE SEASON
Right now, what’s in store for this season is anybody’s
guess. There’s plenty of evidence that the growing operations are
here. Several weeks ago, a local resident was walking along Hammond Drive
near the Mineral King Road when her dog sniffed out a cache of food, clothing,
“It certainly didn’t
have any sophisticated weaponry, just a .22-caliber rifle and a shotgun,”
said Jim Fansett, Three Rivers resident deputy sheriff. “But it’s
not very difficult to imagine who was supposed to pick up these supplies.”
Another longtime resident of the Alta Acres area said she
has actually talked with some suspicious-looking characters near her property
when she spotted their nightlights while sleeping outside on her deck.
“We know what they
are up to and they know we know. We just trust in God that they will leave
us alone,” the woman said. “If we know what they are doing,
surely our law-enforcement agencies are aware of what’s going on.
Why aren’t these individuals being busted?”
When county officials are queried about this curious situation
that exists near Three Rivers, there are a number of answers offered,
including lack of manpower, scheduling, budget constraints, and more.
As recent as this week, a STEP spokesperson said: “We
are not certain at this time of the locations of any gardens in the Three
What is certain is that the weed wars are escalating and
the next battle is just around the corner.
1925 ~ 2005
Rosemary Comrey Packard of Three Rivers died Sunday, July
31, 2005. She was 79.
A memorial service was held Friday, Aug. 5, at the Three
Rivers Roping Arena.
Rosemary was born Aug. 14, 1925, in Charleston, W. Va., to
Andrew Lawrence Comrey and Halcyon Goff Comrey Nagel. During World War
II, she moved with her mother to San Francisco and worked in the secretarial
Rosemary attended the University of Southern California where
she majored in Art. She later moved to Yosemite National Park and was
employed by the Curry Company concessioner.
She met her husband-to-be, Hal Packard, in Yosemite. Hal
became a National Park Service ranger, and Rosemary treasured the many
places they lived as a result of his career, which included Santa Barbara,
Death Valley, Lassen, and, in Sequoia, Lodgepole, Ash Mountain, and Atwell
The family settled in Three Rivers about 1954, but continued
to move back and forth between some of these communities.
Rosemary is a well-known local artist whose landscape paintings
of the Three Rivers and Mineral King areas grace many Kaweah Country homes.
Rosemary worked as a medical transcriber at the Memorial
Hospital of Exeter for about 17 years. Following her retirement in 1988,
she spent her time painting — both oils and watercolors —
playing the piano, playing bridge, golfing, and being a sincere friend
to many. She enjoyed reading tarot cards and interpreting astrological
charts for friends and family.
She was a former Sunday school teacher at the Community Presbyterian
Church in Three Rivers and continued to study the stories of the Bible.
Rosemary is survived by her four children, Jane Hardiman
of St. George, Utah, Ben Packard of Lindsay, and Cliff Packard and Kay
Packard, both of Three Rivers; her brother, Andrew Comrey, and wife Barbara
of Los Angeles; and her four very special grandsons, Josh Packard of Lemon
Cove, Erik Fridborg of Atlanta, Ga., Sean Packard of Exeter, and Ryan
Fridborg of Pasadena.