By Matthew Durkee

From the pages of the Del Norte Triplicate, February and March 1968:

A juvenile gathering being given in honor of Gary Stamps on his engagement announcement led to a tragic series of events that left one person dead, one still missing and another being admitted to Seaside Hospital with back injuries.

The Del Norte Sheriff’s Department’s investigation into the events leading up to the tragic finish was still pending at press time, with a full scale search renewed Tuesday morning for the missing youth.

The body of 15-year-old George Gargaetas, son of Mr. and Mrs. Archie Gargaetas, was recovered from the North Fork of the Smith River. Missing is Rick Stamps, 16-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. William Stamps. Gary Stamps, Rick’s brother, also 16, was taken to Seaside Hospital following a fall from a high cliff overlooking the river.

In piecing together the sketchy details, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department said the party had been arranged for Gary Stamps and was being held at the William Peepe summer home north of Gasquet Saturday night. Reportedly, some 12–15 juveniles were attending the party, and shortly after midnight Gary Stamps fell off a steep embankment landing on a rocky ledge some 80–100 feet below the top of the bank. Other juveniles went to the U.S. Forest Service in Gasquet and alerted officials who in turn called the sheriff’s department. The injured boy was removed with litter and ropes with the rescue taking approximately an hour to complete.

Shortly after this, the party broke up, and early Sunday morning it was ascertained that Rick Stamps and George Gargaetas had not returned home. Upon being notified of this, the sheriff’s department conducted a house to house search and the wooded area in the surrounding neighborhood. The parents of the boys also went to the scene and helped in the search which lasted through the day. The sheriff’s department said there was evidence the boys had panicked when they saw the deputies called in to help remove the injured boy and fled into the darkness.

However, as the day wore on and no trace of either boy was found nor had they returned, the search centered back to the river which was roily and turbulent following recent rains. A full scale search was not involved until Monday morning at which time the full resources of the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue units were called in.

At approximately 9 a.m. Monday morning, the body of George Gargaetas was found approximately 150–200 feet downriver from where Gary Stamps had fallen, by Archie Gargaetas and his son-in-law, Charles Yeager, who had returned to search along the river’s edge. The body was brought ashore and removed to a local mortuary.

With the finding of this body, the search was then concentrated along the river’s edge. Fifty-one inmates from Alder Conservation Camp were called in to assist, along with many volunteers from Del Norte High School, Redwood Scramblers, DN Horsemen’s Association and friends of the families.

Sheriff Lawry, himself a veteran river man, launched his drift boat and with the assistance of divers Lin Mallet and Dean Fox conducted a search along the rocky shores.

At dusk Monday evening, with no trace of the missing boy being found, the entrance of the North Fork and the Smith River was sealed off with the use of weighted barbed wire.

Veteran rivermen had described the waters as “dark and murky” when the search started Sunday morning, but by early afternoon on Monday the river had cleared considerably.

Body of Rick Stamps found in river after missing seven days

After one of the most diligent all-out searches conducted in Del Norte in many years, the recovery of the body of young Rick Stamps early Sunday morning, March 3, brought an end to the concentrated search that was started the morning of February 25 when Stamps, along with George Gargaetas, were reported missing after a teen party at a summer home on the North Fork of the Smith River. Another boy, Gary Stamps, was injured when he fell from a cliff overlooking the river shortly after midnight. Gary Stamps, 16, received a broken vertebra in the fall and was taken to Seaside Hospital where his condition was listed as satisfactory.

Shortly after 9 a.m. Sunday, the body of Rock Stamps was discovered in the river after being listed as missing for more than seven days. A volunteer, 25-year-old Bill Adams, of the Village of Gasquet Trailer Park, made the grim discovery while walking along the rock-strewn river’s edge, after a shirt had been discovered by a fisherman.

Adams, who works in the evening watch at Miller Rellim, has been on the river every day since the start and had given every minute of his spare time in the efforts to locate the body.

Warrants issued on state code

Warrants for the arrest of three persons on charges involving liquor and minors at a Gasquet party after which two Del Norte youth lost their lives were issued by the district attorney here yesterday.

Sheriff Thomas Lawry said warrants had been issued and signed by Judge William Hopper on March 5.

According to the sheriff, alcoholic beverages had been purchased the night of the party by introducing false identification to a local liquor store and then transported to the Gasquet cabin at which the tragic teen party was held.

Sheriff Lawry said a full investigation is continuing into every aspect of the case.

Drive starts to help raise funds for Stamps

Residents of Del Norte County, recalling what Bill Stamps has done for others in trying times during the past few years, are rallying again to a cause. Only this time the assistance is on the other side.

People throughout Del Norte County can testify to Stamps’ wholehearted support and participation in asking for assistance in times of emergency or distress. Following the tidal wave, when radio KPOD came back on the air, urgent pleas for money, clothing, food, shelter and furniture brought tremendous response. Then, when the disastrous floods struck the county in 1964, he again used his radio station to solicit help of all kinds for those who suffered losses.

Now, in March of 1968, tragedy has again struck. During the time his son was missing, Stamps spent every available hour helping in the search. His usual stint at the radio station was forgotten in his futile search for his son. However, Fred Andrews, along with volunteers Dick Minor and John Standley, kept station KPOD on the air.

Following the tragic accident, expenses of the Stramps have been mounting to the point where they are “almost out of sight,” according to close friends. In view of this, several business people started a fund to give Bill and his family a helping hand. Called the “Bill Stamps Fund,” or, “Help a friend who always helps others fund,” contributions started rolling in on March 2 at various places of business, strictly on a voluntary basis. Part of the money was used to bring a relative here to assist Bill in his personal affairs.

Reach Matthew Durkee at mdurkee@triplicate.com .

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