IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Tourist researching California family found dead on hike had to be rescued after getting lost

Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese expressed frustration about the incident and said the man purposely put himself and others in danger.
Image: Sierra National Forest
A vehicle enters the Sierra National Forest northeast of Fresno in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains under a smoke-filled sky during the Creek fire in Auberry, Fresno County on Sept. 11, 2020.Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

A Michigan man who wanted to research a California family found dead on a trail in the Sierra National Forest had to be rescued after getting lost, the sheriff's office said.

The unidentified hiker was reported missing last Wednesday near Savage Lundy Trail, the same area where John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog were found dead in August.

The man, believed to be in his mid-60s, began his hike in an area shut off from the public, the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post. The area had a closed gate and a sign was displayed that said "CLOSED."

The man got lost after he couldn't find the trail that leads to Savage Lundy, the sheriff's office said.

Another hiker reported the man missing after noticing the man's car parked near the entrance of a trail. The hiker told authorities that he saw the man on June 28 and that the man said he wanted to do some personal research on the family's deaths because he found it "odd," according to the sheriff's office.

"The next morning the reporting party noticed his rented vehicle was still parked at the trail head and contacted our office. A Search and Rescue mission was activated and with the help of the Eagle One Helicopter from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office the man was located on the Hites Cove Rd portion of the trail," the Facebook post stated.

After he was rescued, the man complained about having to spend the night in the wilderness "because he was unable to find the trail that leads to the Savage Lundy portion," the sheriff's office said.

The man said he tried to call 911 multiple times but because of poor reception, the calls did not go through. The man also complained about running out of water he bought with him and having to drink from a river.

The sheriff's office said the man got lost on one of "the hottest days we have seen this year." The man had "badly blistered feet" and was dehydrated but left the area in his car against medical advice.

Sheriff Jeremy Briese expressed frustration about the incident and said the man purposely put himself and others in danger.

"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. I want families to recreate and enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Making sure the public is safe while doing that is extremely important to me," he said in a Facebook statement.

"We had local, national and international news surrounding the tragic incident last year on the Savage Lundy trail. Each time we spoke about it we informed the public on ways to stay safe in the area. 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."

Investigators determined that the family died from heat and dehydration after hiking in midday triple-digit heat. An empty 85-ounce water bladder backpack was located with the family, Briese has said. No other water containers or water filtration systems were found.

A number of factors, including environmental, a possible lightning strike, carbon monoxide poisoning, drugs and suicide, were ruled out, the sheriff's office previously said. The family's cause of death was found to be "hyperthermia and probable dehydration," according to Briese.