Home > Fact of the Week > Back Road Traveling Dangers


reparedness Facts of the Week
by Elizabeth Hall, Emergency Response Assistant - Kings County Office of Emergency Management
  The Dangers of Traveling Back Roads
Next Week Part 2: Prepare Yourself Ahead of Time - 5 Basic Survival Skills - Car Kits
Janaury 2010

Two weeks ago, my brother-in-law decided to take a short cut home after a hard days' work. He had just cashed his paycheck and was headed down a familiar road known to area residents as "the old river road" between Hanford and Laton. It's a narrow winding road and of course, pitch black at night. As he was driving down the road he noticed someone flagging him down.

Thinking this man might need some help, my brother-in-law stopped the car and rolled down the window just a little to hear what the man was saying. In that short instant, the man reached through the opening and punched him in the head and face several times. As my brother-in-law tried to leave, the man reached in and grabbed his keys so that he could not escape. It was then that several other men showed up and they drug my brother-in-law out of the car and continually beat and kick him to the ground. They took some tools and a few other items out of the car along with all the cash my brother-in-law had just acquired. Rent, monthly bills and grocery money was all gone.

  December 2, 2006  
  A San Francisco man died trying to get help for his family after they were stranded for a week in the snow. James Kim, his wife, Kati and two daughters, Penelope age 4 and Sabine 7 months, were traveling in their station wagon. They had just spent the holidays with friends in Seattle, Washington, and were headed back to San Francisco. They began their journey for home on November 25, 2006 when they missed their turnoff. Instead of returning to the exit, they consulted a highway map and picked a secondary route that skirted the Wild Rogue Wilderness, which is a remote area of southwestern Oregon. After encountering heavy snow at high elevation, they turned, by mistake, onto one of hundreds of unpaved logging roads loosely supervised. Early the next morning the family stopped due to fatigue and bad weather. While they were stopped, more snow fell immobilizing their station wagon. At first they kept warm by running the engine. When the vehicle ran out of gas, they made a campfire of dried wood and magazines. They eventually burned the cars' tires in the hopes of signaling rescuers. No one came.

Search efforts did not begin for the family until James' co-workers filed a missing persons report with the San Francisco Police Department.

After studying a map, James believed the nearest town to be only four miles away, and that he could go for help. He promised his wife that he would turn back the same day if he failed to find anyone. So, on December 2, James left on foot to go get help for his family. He carried with him only a backpack which contained his identification documents and other miscellaneous items. He was wearing tennis shoes, a jacket and light clothing. James never returned to his family. His body was found on December 6. He had died due to hypothermia. He had walked about 16.2 miles from the car to where his body was found, and was only a mile from the nearest lodge.

Two words come to mind…safety conscious!
So while you were reading the two stories, did you come up with ideas on how you would have done it differently if you were put into those situations?

Let's look at the first story.
As women, your first thought should have been "Well I wouldn't be driving at night alone on a back road where I cannot be seen!" For men, well, let me say that no matter how physically strong you are, unless you can morph into an action hero like Spiderman, Superman or the Hulk, one unarmed man cannot fight off several and win. Another thought to keep in mind, if someone is going to do you harm, most likely they will be armed and will be no match for you.

As for the second story of the man trying to get help for his family.
One would think that they were prepared enough with having water, food, even directions from both online mapping and a paper road map of the areas they were traveling. They were equipped to start and keep a fire going as long as they could and knew how to shelter in their car. They did have a cell phone with them, but their remote location in the mountains was out of range of the cellular network, making it impossible to make or receive calls. What they weren't prepared for were the outdoor elements.

My first thought after missing an exit has always been to go back to your original plan of exit. Never assume there is always an alternative route just as safe up ahead. If you are not familiar with the territory, why take the chance? I'd rather take more time and be safe, than risk my safety and those who are depending on me. Contrary to what they say, all roads do not necessarily lead to your destination. Even though the Kim family seemed to have had all the basics covered, unexpected circumstances still happened.

Can we ever be totally prepared for any and everything? I don't think so. Just as we cannot predict the future, we will never be able to predict how an emergency situation will unfold entirely. Just as earthquakes are as individual as a set of fingerprints (no two are alike), so will disasters be; no matter how big or small. Even so, we must continue our efforts to educate our self and others on safety and preparedness.

  Reference: Background for information about James Kim from Wikipedia  
Some ideas while driving alone:
  • Before you leave on a trip, phone or text someone at your destination of your leave time so they can keep an eye on the time for your arrival. I also like to inform a family member who will not be traveling with me of the time I am leaving. When I arrive at my destination, I give that person a call to let them know I arrived safely. This way everyone at both ends is aware of your travels.
  • If for any reason you have to take a detour, or there is a delay on the road, make sure you phone or text the people you have informed. No need to worry them needlessly.
  • K eep your doors locked at all times
  • Keep your valuables out of sight
  • Carry mace or pepper spray
  • Do not stop to help people on the side
    of the road
    I know you may feel bad, but unfortunately our society has forced us to
    think twice about coming to someone's
    rescue. Instead, call the police or a towing company. Safety first!
  • Keep your windows rolled all the way up
    when your car is parked.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Concentrate on the task at hand - your destination. Think ahead of where you are
    going and what the conditions/ surroundings will be like.

So what ever happened to the
other people in the stories?

Well, Mrs. Kim and her two daughters survived what will undoubtedly be the most traumatic experience of their lives. Little did they know that, despite being unusable for voice calls, their cell phone would play a key role in their rescue.

Engineers discovered that on November 26, at around 1:30 a.m., the Kim's cell phone made a
brief automatic connection to a cell site near Glendale, Oregon, and retrieved two text
Through the data logs, the engineers determined that the cell phone was in a specific area west of the cellular tower. They then used a computer program to determine which areas in the mountains were within a line-of-sight to the cellular tower. This narrowed the search area tremendously, and finally focused rescue efforts on the road near where they stopped the car. Mrs. Kim and her daughters were rescued by helicopter thanks to the cell phone connection data retrieved.

As for my brother-in-law, he was taken to the emergency room that evening where doctors said there was some internal inflammation, but nothing broken or seriously damaged. He was lucky.

Do your part for safety awareness by passing this information along to anyone you can think of who would benefit.

Have a great week, and remember…… Be Responsible - Be Ready - Be Prepared!

Teaming Up for Emergency Preparedness
Elizabeth Hall

Office of Emergency Management

280 Campus Drive Hanford, CA 93230
(559) 582-3211, Ext. 2634


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