Friday, December 08, 2006

The deadly history of Bear Camp Road

The water cooler story of the week seems to be the search and rescue of the Kim family. I was elated on Monday to hear about the rescue of part of the family and then devastated on Wednesday with the discovery of the body of James Kim.

I have had several discussions with friend and co-workers about the unfolding events and in one particular conversation we were recalling a story that we had both heard years ago about a man that had survived in his car for several months before finally dying of starvation. We both remembered details of the story but not the entire story. I did an initial google search and did not find anything. Today I was reading a follow-up story about the Kim family ordeal from the LA Times (article titled, Vandalized gate led family astray) and the final paragraph of the story contained the information that I had been looking for. I did a further google search and pieced together the following from multiple sources (see below).

Dewitt Finley, 56, a traveling salesman from Montana decided to travel over the Coast Range when headed from the Oregon coast to Grants Pass on November 14, 1995. Mr. Finley had spent most of his life in the Los Angeles area and was not accustomed to late-season driving in the mountains and did not have much knowledge about the outdoors. His pickup truck with camper kept sliding off the road, despite the 4-wheel drive, and he finally decided to stop on the shoulder and camp for the night. However the storm continued for 3 days and when it was finished the pickup truck was surrounded by six-feet of snow. Mr. Finley passed the time by checking days off his calendar and writing letters to his sons, his fiancee and his boss. According to the letters that were left behind in the truck, Finley decided to trust God for a rescue, waiting in his truck. He wrote, “I have no control over my life. It’s all in His hands. His will be done. Death here in another month or so, so He sends someone to save me. Yet knowing His will, I’m at peace and His grace will prevail. If I’m save to finish my life here, please know I’ll always be thankful to you and remain your servant. If not – I’ll see you in Glory.” The final date check off his calendar was January 19, 1996. His body was found in the cab of his pickup truck by teenagers in late May.

A poem titled “The End of DeWitt Finley” was written by Joseph Harrison and included in his book Someone Else’s Name. An except of the poem:

They found the salesman's body the following spring.
Something struck the observers about the scene
Of the man's death: there wasn't the slightest sign
Of struggle, anguish, or delirium,
No broken glass, no torn upholstery.
All seemed composed, contemplative, serene,
As poised as steady penmanship,
The thoughtful phrasing of his calm farewell,
His mild acceptance of his lonely end.

It wouldn't be correct to call it fate:
Rescue in the form of a ploughed road, remained
Throughout a makable hike away. And though
He didn't know this, did he want to know?
He wanted someone to come, that was the point.
Call it foolishness, or call it faith,
The patience to wait in silence for a sign
That life has something like meaning, and that yours
Has something like meaning, meaning that is yours.

The irony in this tale – The entire nine weeks Finley was waiting and praying, he was no more than a few hundred feet from a clear, paved road which was only a 16-mile walk to a store and safety.

It turns out that the Kim family and Finley were both stranded on Bear Camp Road near Merlin, Oregon. It is horribly sad that the road was not better closed off since it has now claimed 3 lives in the past 12 years. I hope that in the future is is better marked and blocked when impassable.

I am just glad that I was able to find some details on the Finley story, it was driving me nuts.

Links to sources:

Nothing Fails Like Prayer

Tough choices for stuck winter travelers


Anonymous said...

Big Dave's first comment:
Jewells - today's seattle times had a great picture of the turnoff
sad that in a snowstorm you would go with the wider road, and you wouldn't be able to see the Big "COAST" in the middle of the road.
That being said, do you remember being on this road when we rafted the Rogue back in '96? This is old stomping ground for me so it has made it very weird.

Julie Anne said...

I am glad that you FINALLY made a comment Big Dave! :-)

I saw that picture in the paper this morning. There was a really good in-depth article in the paper on the whole sad Kim family story.

I do remember the area. When I saw the first news story and they were using Merlin, Oregon as the home of the search my first thought was about our rafting trip. And then when I found out that James Kim was trying to get to Galice, I thought of it again.

The events of late are super sad, but I have thought about that trip and the fun that we had while lazily floating down the river getting sunburned but keeping the beer cold in the river. :-)