A Fountain Hills father whose son fell to his death at the Tonto Natural Bridge over a quarter-of-a-century ago has finally found some closure.
Benjamin Evans Field was 12 when he fell 75 to 100 feet from the top of a cave while visiting the bridge with his mother and stepfather on April 16, 1978. Benjamin's father, Frank Fields, recently had a granite bench placed at Lookout 3 in his son's honor.
An account of the accident in the Roundup said the boy was "on an outing with his older sister, his mother, Margery Rogers, and stepfather, William E. Rogers, all of Scottsdale, when the tragedy occurred."
At the time, Fields was engaged in a custody battle with his ex-wife and hadn't seen his son or two daughters for several years.
"It was a dragged out affair, and I tried for years to be able to see my children," Fields said. "My son had come over on his own once and met his stepbrother, but I wasn't home."
When the accident occurred, Fields was told by Payson Funeral Home that he couldn't see the body. But when it was moved to a funeral home in Scottsdale, he was finally allowed to do so.
"I went there and the fellow there said nobody had even been there to see the body," he said. "We spent what time we could there at the mortuary."
But Fields couldn't bring himself to visit the bridge until this year.
"I wanted to go up there after he died, but I couldn't force myself to go," he said. "I just got thinking about it over the years -- I think of all three of my kids every day -- and I finally decided to go up there and do something for him. It's the least I could do."
When he did, he saw a memorial bench there and got the idea to do the same in honor of his son.
"He saw that and it triggered something and he came in the gift shop and inquired about it," Park Ranger Cathe Descheemaker said. "He said, ‘My son was killed here, and I would really like to do something like that.'"
Fields, a man of few words, became emotional during his visit, Descheemaker said.
"He was really torn up, very choked up." she said. "I offered my sympathy and told him how nice I thought that would be."
Upon leaving the bridge, Fields visited the funeral home and ordered the bench. Three months later, it was installed at the most popular location in the park.
"That is the first place people come -- the most visited viewpoint of all," Descheemaker said.
Fields now has a good relationship with his oldest daughter and is at least able to talk about the son he lost 25 years ago. It was not only the bench that helped bring closure, but the experience of finally visiting the bridge, and, he points out, the support he received from the people who work there.
"Cathe (Descheemaker) and the other rangers have just been super," Fields said.