Visitors to Death Valley National Park near Zabriskie Point on Tuesday found the body of a 67-year-old Huntington Beach man who apparently died after running out of gas in the isolated area.
According to the National Park Service, David Kelleher seems to have been walking from Zabriskie Point toward Furnace Creek when he died, during a heat wave that brought record temperatures of up to 123°F.
On the morning of June 8, a park ranger noticed that there was only one vehicle in Zabriskie Point parking lot, NPS said in a press release. On the evening of June 11, the same park ranger saw only one vehicle in the parking lot and remembered it from three days earlier.
Although an investigation by park rangers revealed that the car belonged to Kelleher, he had not been reported missing. However, a records search showed that a park ranger had cited Kelleher for off-road driving on May 30, the same day Kelleher had mentioned being low on gas when contacted by a ranger near Dantes View Road.
Kelleher’s vehicle was found parked at what NPS says is “one of the park’s most popular viewpoints.” A crumpled note found inside the vehicle read, “Out of gas.”
The ground and aerial search was limited by hot weather, the agency said, and was focused on the Golden Canyon and Badlands Trails, not where Kelleher was eventually found by park guests at around 2 p.m. on June 14.
“He was about 2.5 miles from their vehicle,” NPS stated, “but only about 30 feet from California Highway 190, obscured by terrain and a mesquite tree.”
Park rangers say in extreme heat, people should wait at a broken vehicle, rather than attempting to walk for assistance. Additionally, NPS encourages park visitors to stay safe in the summer by not hiking at low elevations after 10 am, staying within a short walk of air conditioning, drinking plenty of water, and eating salty snacks.
This is the park’s second recent fatality, the Park Service said. John McCarry, 69, of Long Beach, was found deceased in Panamint Valley on June 1.
A search was also initiated on May 23 for Peter Harootunian, whose vehicle was noticed by National Park Service staff abandoned in Emigrant Campground. Harootunian has not been found, and NPS says that search has since been scaled back to limited and continuous.
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