Bear-Car Crash, Vehicle In Lake Among Holiday Incidents


Labor Day weekend delivered its fair share of unusual work for emergency officials.

From a vehicle vs. bear accident to a driver drowning their car in Roosevelt Lake to lost hikers on one of Sedona’s most popular and well-traveled trails.

Holiday weekends are normally busy for officers and rescuers who see an increase in activity as weekend travelers leave the comforts of their homes for a little adventure.

On Friday, an officer came across a most unusual sight. While it is common to hear of a vehicle hitting an elk, especially as they migrate for mating season, hitting a bear is another thing.

About 11:11 p.m., Gila County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Havey came across what he thought was a broken down vehicle on Highway 260, nine miles east of Payson.

“Upon further investigation, it was a vehicle vs. bear accident,” said Gila County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Scott. 

Driver Jammi Fitch-Kirkpatrick was uninjured but the air bags had deployed. The vehicle was towed and the bear removed.

While Fitch-Kirkpatrick was removing bits of bear from the car, another driver was drying theirs out.

On Saturday, the GCSO received a 911 call that a vehicle had gone off the boat ramp at Indian Point and was completely submerged.

All occupants had managed to get out safely, although a dive team was put on standby until three sheriff’s officers could verify no one was left in the vehicle.

With the assistance of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, on Monday the vehicle was removed from the lake by the Gila County dive team and 4 Peaks Towing. 

Richard Thiele was arrested on a valid warrant out of Payson.

“No other charges have been filed as this case is still under investigation,” Scott said.

In Sedona, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit was busy responding to half a dozen calls for assistance.

On Sunday afternoon, two hikers were reported overdue on the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon Trail.

The first three-mile section of West Fork is a popular trail for novice and experienced hikers. While most hikers turn around at the three-mile mark, it is possible to hike another dozen miles back into the canyon, passing through several deep pools.

Sunday’s missing hikers were part of a party of four that had hiked from the trailhead and somehow got separated near the three-mile turn around point.

“Two of the hikers made it out around 9 p.m. and they waited for a couple of hours for their companions, who did not arrive,” said the sheriff’s office in a release.  Search and Rescue responded to the trailhead and began searching while an Arizona Department of Public Safety Air Rescue Unit from Kingman looked from the sky. 

“Air Rescue spotted a campfire in the area of the narrows and search and rescue ground units hiked to that location where they located the two overdue hikers. 

“Both hikers were in good condition and were provided with dry clothing and assisted out of the canyon to the trailhead where they were reunited with their companions at 5:20 a.m. Monday.”

In Gila County, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue remained busy through the weekend handling a series of minor calls.

On Sunday, three hikers found themselves lost after losing the trail near Fossil Creek. After a bit of bushwhacking, the group spotted other hikers and was able to hike out to the lower trailhead.

Since TRSAR was not needed, volunteers turned around and went home.

Later, a couple thought to be missing on the Hellsgate Trail for four hours turned up uninjured. TRSAR Commander Bill Pitterle used his cell phone to guide a hunter who thought he was lost back to safety.

Pitterle said the man called for help, not knowing how to use the map feature on his Droid cell phone. Since Pitterle has a Droid, he talked the man through accessing the application. Once the map feature was on, the man saw that he was 400 yards from a road and was able to walk to safety.

Of the weekend, Pitterle said, “nothing turned into anything.”

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit remind outdoor users to carry “10 essentials” with them on all hikes as an unexpected emergency can turn a day hike into an overnight survival situation.

Ten essentials: water, food, warm clothing, map, compass, GPS, headlamp/flashlight, first aid kit, shelter material like a space blanket, fire starting kit/matches, pocketknife/multi-tool and a whistle/signal mirror.


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