By Jeff Barnard
Associated Press writer
GRANTS PASS, Ore. The logging road where the Kim family of San Francisco got stranded had been locked shut nearly a year earlier to keep people from getting lost, according to a report released Tuesday.
However, maintenance crews who noticed the gate open last fall, with an unauthorized lock preventing it from being closed, had not yet been told of a decision to close the road to the public year-round, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management internal review found.
As a result, the gate was open last Thanksgiving weekend when the Kim family drove through it in a snowstorm looking for a route to the coast, where they planned to spend the night.
"This management review found that no Bureau of Land management employee failed to carry out any specific order or work assignment concerning locking a specific gate by a specific date or time," BLM Oregon and Washington state director Edward W. Shepard wrote in a letter accompanying the review.
"We certainly have learned we can communicate better and there are some things we are going to do differently, like add more patrols and improve communications," BLM spokeswoman Jody Weil added.
The policy covering the 169 different gates within the BLM's Grants Pass Resource Area was comprehensive, but did not contain a protocol for informing maintenance crews, law enforcement officers or other staff out in the field of which gates were supposed to be closed, the review said.
"The problem is (the policy) is so new it hasn't been fully implemented," Weil said. "The memo that would have implemented it hadn't happened yet."
James Kim, a San Francisco online editor; his wife, Kati, and their two young daughters were returning from a Thanksgiving visit to Seattle when they missed a turn off Interstate 5, and decided to take a backcountry road through the Siskiyou National Forest to reach a luxury lodge outside Gold Beach where they were spending the night.
Trying to avoid snow blocking U.S. Forest Service Road 23, known as Bear Camp Road, the Kims took a turn down a century-old BLM logging road, known as the Galice Access Road. They stopped for the night after running low on gas and woke up in the morning stranded by snow.
Snowbound with little food for more than a week, Kati Kim and the two girls were rescued, but James Kim died of hypothermia in a rugged creek bed after setting off on foot.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski has named a task force to look for ways to improve communications and coordination between county, state and federal authorities in search and rescue operations.
The backcountry route the Kims were looking for goes from the community of Galice over the rugged Klamath Mountains to the community of Agness. In summer it is a popular shuttle route for whitewater rafters, but it is not plowed in winter. Local people use it to look for Christmas trees and go snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.
The report said BLM built gate number 066 at milepost 12.3 of the Galice Access Road in December 2004 and locked it shut in January 2005 for public safety reasons.
People driving between Galice and Agness frequently get lost in the warren of old logging roads. The owners of Black Bar Lodge on the Rogue River use the road to ferry in supplies and employees, and had a key to the BLM lock.
Two maintenance crews and a seasonal employee taking photos of gates ordered shut all noticed the gate was locked open with an unauthorized lock, but none of them were aware of the policy requiring it to be locked shut, so they did not report the problem to the Grants Pass Field Office, the review said.