Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Multiple incidents on the Blue Ridge Parkway keep rangers busy

Rangers and rescue personnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway have been kept quite busy over the last couple of weeks. A slew of incidents, including climbing accidents, a suicide attempt, and a kidnapping, have been reported recently:

* On June 13th, a suicidal person operating a red Subaru near Craggy Gardens placed a burning rag into the vehicle’s gas tank and set it afire. A Buncombe County deputy on the scene tried to reach him, but the man had locked himself inside. He eventually got out of the vehicle, though, telling rangers and deputies that he just wanted to die. He was taken into custody after a brief struggle and brought to a mental health facility in Asheville. The parkway was closed temporarily while firefighters put out the blaze.

* On June 15th, Jonathan Sullivan, 20, of Tuscaloosa, AL, died after falling from the 120-foot cliff he was climbing at the Raven’s Roost Overlook at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Investigators are hoping to gather more information about what may have caused the fall.

* On the afternoon of June 18th rangers received a report of a single vehicle rollover accident near milepost 295 in the Highlands District. When they reached the accident scene they found a Honda Pilot carrying ten people – eight adults and two children – had left the roadway and gone down an embankment approximately 80 feet, striking several large trees. The impact caused the SUV to turn on its side, trapping many of the occupants inside.

Responders worked quickly to extricate the victims. The Honda’s roof had to be cut, and winches were used to lift it from those trapped inside. A rope system was then put in place to haul the victims up the steep embankment to the road in order to transport them to the hospital. One of them, the 74-year-old father of the operator, was pronounced dead after arriving at Baptist Hospital. Two passengers, a ten-year-old girl and a 43-year-old adult, were treated for minor injuries and released. The other seven were taken to intensive care with significant injuries. According to witnesses, the Honda’s passenger side tires left the pavement when it drifted off the road. The driver attempted to get the vehicle back onto the roadway but steered too sharply, causing it to go into a skid and leave the road. Personnel from the Blowing Rock Police Department and Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue, medics from Watauga County, and other park employees worked together with rangers to successfully handle a complex and difficult scene during heavy rain and high winds.

* On June 21st a 20-year-old UNC Charlotte student suffered a significant head injury after taking a 20-foot fall at Upper Falls near Graveyard Fields. Workers had to immobilize his spine and carried him out on a long spine board.

* A 42-year-old woman was found by visitors lying in a parking lot at the Boone Fork Trailhead near Grandfather Mountain State Park on the evening of Thursday, June 23rd. The visitors called 911. The woman claimed that she had been abducted outside her house earlier that day by a man wearing a ski mask and sunglasses. She told investigators that he had pointed a gun at her and forced her into her van, directing her to drive to the parkway. She said that he had then taken her into the woods, where she fought him, got away, and then walked through the woods to the parking lot where she was found. She was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for minor injuries.

The parkway was closed and a manhunt ensued that lasted into the early morning hours, but no evidence of an assailant was found. The parkway was reopened at 4 a.m. on Friday morning. An NPS special agent, working in cooperation with Charlottesville investigators, took the lead in the investigation, and the FBI opened a case on the abduction. Rangers retraced the woman’s escape route through the woods, but found little evidence. The investigation is ongoing.


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