Volunteer Dies During Search For Man

Mounted posse member Larry Woolsey falls 20 feet; Missing man turns up near Phoenix with ATV

Sheriff’s Deputy Rod Cronk (left) and Tonto Search and Rescue Team Leader Bill Pitterle look at a map of the search area Thursday. Search and rescue crews looked for Mark Alexander, who was thought to be missing near Payson.

Sheriff’s Deputy Rod Cronk (left) and Tonto Search and Rescue Team Leader Bill Pitterle look at a map of the search area Thursday. Search and rescue crews looked for Mark Alexander, who was thought to be missing near Payson. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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A hardworking man, friends and family said would give you the shirt off his back, died Tuesday trying to help someone else.

A pillar of the community, Gila County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Posse member Larry “Goat or Sheep” Woolsey fell to his death during a search for a missing man.

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In Memorium Larry Woolsey 1933-2011

“It will be hard to fill that loss,” said close friend of 15 years and neighbor Drew Justice.

Woolsey, 78, was working with two other mounted posse members when the accident occurred about 7 p.m. in the Lion Springs area of Star Valley.

Woolsey was looking for Mark Alexander, 56, who left his home in the Bear Flat subdivision on a green ATV sometime around 10 a.m. on April 1. When Alexander didn’t return home, neighbors got worried. Alexander turned up in the Valley Thursday afternoon uninjured.

“Larry lost his life searching for somebody else. He was a great guy,” said mounted posse Commander Earl Chitwood Wednesday.

Woolsey was leading his horse Pickles across an old dam when he lost his footing and fell approximately 20 feet to the rocks below, said Lt. Tim Scott with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. Pickles was uninjured.

Members of the posse rushed to Woolsey’s side until Hellsgate Fire arrived on scene.

Due to the remote location of the accident in the Tonto National Forest, medical personnel had to hike or ride in on ATVs. Woolsey was pronounced deceased at 7:45 p.m.

“Gila County Sheriff John Armer expresses his condolences to the family and friends of Woolsey. Woolsey was a friend to many and an irreplaceable asset to the mounted posse. He will be missed by all,” Scott said.

Justice said Woolsey was like a second father to him and many others.

After moving to town, Justice said Woolsey and his wife Patty took his family under their wing.

“He was a great friend to a lot of people in town,” Justice said. “If someone needed something, he was there.”

If you needed help with a project, Woolsey was willing.

“If he couldn’t help you today, he would help you tomorrow,” he said. “No one ever met him that didn’t like him, he was very well respected.”

One of Woolsey’s true loves was working with horses. Woolsey bred and raised Pickles on his property in Star Valley.

When Woolsey got that call that an ATV rider was missing in the forest, he and four other posse members saddled up their horses and rode out.

“It was a beautiful day to ride anyways, so he decided to go,” Justice said.

An outdoorsmen, Justice said it was rare to find Woolsey in his home.

“Larry loved the outdoors so if he could be outside he would,” he said. “If you went to his house you always looked around outside and if you couldn’t find him and his pickup was there, you went inside and maybe he was there making a sandwich.”

Described as an ornery man, Woolsey loved to tease.

“It was cool to know him,” Justice said.

Missing man

A neighbor of Alexander’s notified the sheriff’s office Tuesday around 2 p.m. that he had not heard from Alexander since he left Friday.

“It did not appear that Alexander had prepared for an extended trip, and no specific destination is known,” Scott said.

Family members told searchers that Alexander liked to ride Forest Service roads and trails around Bear Flat.

For two days, crews searched tirelessly around Star Valley and Meads Ranch, but found no sign of Alexander or where he had gone.

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Tonto Search and Rescue team members heading out on 29 Road near Mead's Ranch are Dave Burkhart, on the rear quad and Warner Thompson, left and Bill Pitterle driving the lead vehicle.

Then at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Alexander showed up at his sister’s house in the Valley.

Alexander’s sister, Ava, called the Gila County Sheriff’s Office and reported that Alexander had tried to ride his quad to Phoenix when he had mechanical problems, Scott said.

Alexander said his quad broke down in the Verde River area near Ft. McDowell. He was pushing the quad toward his mother’s home when a passerby picked him and the quad up.

Alexander said he did not know anyone was looking for him.

“Alexander called the sheriff’s office and explained that he was heading to the Phoenix area to look for work,” Scott said.

The sheriff’s office relayed the information to Search and Rescue Coordinator Rod Cronk who was running a search operation near Meads Ranch. All search and rescue volunteers were called back.

The mounted posse formed last summer soon after a 4-year-old boy went missing near the airport. Chitwood and Beth and Wyman Kindall found the boy uninjured a day later.

“Because of this, we feel strongly about the need of a horse-mounted search posse,” Chitwood previously wrote.

Chitwood helped form the nonprofit posse and the organization now sits at some 40 members.

When Woolsey heard about the posse, it was a natural fit for him to join. The danger of the job never crossed any of our minds, Justice said.

“I guess it is inherently dangerous, but riding horses is something we all do every day. It is a lifestyle for us,” he said. “Larry loved to live life and he went out doing what he loved.”

This is the first time a member of the posse died during a search.

For Pitterle, search and rescue is a family.

“As search and rescue volunteers, we risk our lives at odd hours, in tough conditions and difficult terrain ‘That Others May Live,’” Pitterle said. “We grieve the loss of our friend and associate, Larry Woolsey, and extend our deepest sympathy to his family, friends and extended search and rescue family.”

Woolsey is survived by three children who live in the Valley.

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