Tourist rescued after mission to investigate California family’s hiking deaths

A Michigan man who is said to have traveled to California’s Sierra national forest to investigate the heat-related deaths of a young family on a hiking trail last year had to be rescued last month, according to the Mariposa county sheriff’s office.

The tourist, whom authorities have not named but said is in his mid-60s, reportedly traveled to the area to research what happened to Ellen Chung, 30, her husband, Jonathan Gerrish, 45, their one-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog, Oski, who all died on a hike last August.

The mysterious case baffled law enforcement for months and officials investigated possible causes ranging from carbon monoxide to toxic algae, before finding the family had succumbed to extreme heat and probable dehydration on the trail while just over a mile from their car.

On 28 June, the Michigan tourist traveled to the Hites Cove/Savage Lundy trail, according to authorities, hiking in an area marked as closed. Officials said he had told someone on the trail that he found official explanations of the family’s deaths “odd” and planned to personally investigate what had happened.

The next morning, that person noticed the man’s rented vehicle was still parked at the entrance of the trail and contacted the sheriff’s office. Officials launched a search and rescue mission and found the missing man on the “Hites Cove Rd portion of the trail”, according to a press release from the Mariposa county sheriff’s office.

Officials said the man was happy to be rescued but complained about having to spend the night and being unable to find the portion of trail he was looking for. He told officials he had tried to call 911 several times but was unable to get through, and he was concerned about algae after drinking water from a nearby river. Medics treated him for “badly blistered feet and dehydration” before he drove off despite medical advice.

Jeremy Briese, the local sheriff, expressed outrage about what happened and said that each time his office spoke about the Chung-Gerrish family’s deaths officials sought to inform the public how to visit the area safely.

“It is hard not to be angry about this particular rescue mission. I want people to come here and enjoy all the amazing nature Mariposa county has to offer,” he said. “To have someone purposely put themselves in danger, using vital resources and potentially putting the safety of our staff in danger all to try and prove us wrong, is maddening and quite frankly sickening.”

The Mariposa county sheriff’s office and other local officials have advised people to be cautious in the area, which has no cellphone reception, particularly amid extreme heat.

Temperatures were as high as 109F the day of the Chung-Gerrish family’s deaths, and the majority of the trail has little shade or trees. The family did not bring enough water for the hike, officials found. Briese has previously acknowledged that the circumstances of the deaths were unusual but said his office was confident in their findings.

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