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for residents and visitors
Three Rivers,
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
National Parks,
Lemon Cove and Woodlake
Kaweah Kam



In the News - Friday, AUGUST 12, 2005


Lightning kills

Boy Scout, leader

   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 help arrived.
   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 scouting skills.
   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 in Virginia.
   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.

Kaweah River

claims another victim

   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 the surface.
   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 heart.
   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.

Fatalities 2005
Sequoia Kings-Canyon
National Parks

   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 Park.
   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 backcountry.
   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 to investigate.”
   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.

   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, and firearms.

  “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 Rivers area.”
   What is certain is that the weed wars are escalating and the next battle is just around the corner.

Rosemary Packard,

artist, 50-year resident
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 field.
   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 Mill.
   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.

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