[Update 12/13: See post on my brief interview with the Oregon State Police.]
Was James Kim advised to avoid the road he took into the mountains after Thanksgiving or not? Several days after the family was reported missing, a report surfaced that on Saturday, November 25–the day they were last seen–the Kims had stopped in Wilsonville, Oregon, to get travel directions. Eventually, the report became more explicit: Not only had the Kims stopped at the town’s Chamber of Commerce (which is housed in a 5,000-square-foot building with the Clackamas County Regional Visitor Information Center), but James Kim had inquired about scenic routes to their destination, Gold Beach, Oregon. A volunteer in the center pointed out Bear Camp Road on an official state road map and highlighted it; but she also reportedly warned against taking the road in winter. That much of the account was published online by CNET, James Kim’s employer. But Wednesday, the day Kim was found dead, an Oregon state police public information officer said the report was false or unreliable.
Knowing what happened won’t bring James Kim back or ease his family’s suffering. But maybe having a straightforward account of how the family wound up where it did could help others avoid the same fate (though I admit that when another account suggests the Kims kept going even after they saw several signs warning about snow on the road, you wonder if even that point is moot). If nothing else, a contradiction like this begs to be resolved.
So I called up the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce this morning and asked for the guy I’d seen quoted in stories, Mark Ottenad, the executive director. I told him I wanted to try to clear up the confusion about his account and the state police statements. He suggested that part of the issue was that people who stop at the building, which has a sign referring to the Clackamas County visitor’s center, don’t realize that they’re actually at the Chamber of Commerce, too. But he stood by the account he’s told before about the Kims’ visit:
“I spoke to our office manager and verified that a family matching the description of the Kim family were here. They did not sign the guest book. One of our visitor information specialists talked to them, and the man asked about the scenic route to Gold Beach, and asked her to highlight it on the map. She specifically cautioned against taking that road or any forest road in the winter.”
Ottenad said the reason that the volunteer information specialist didn’t report the encounter was that the description of the family–parents and two young girls–didn’t add up for her at first. “She thought the baby was a boy,” he said. But when she saw pictures of the family on Saturday, December 2–coincidentally, the day James Kim began his hike to find help–she immediately recognized them and alerted the state police. Ottenad said the volunteer “is a grandmother herself. She’s personally devastated by what happened.”
Ottenad said that given the history of travelers getting stranded on Bear Camp Road (also known locally as Galice Road or Galice-Agness Road), “I’ll admit I’m surprised the authorities didn’t start looking up there first. That’s where I assumed they were looking.”
I’ve got a call in to Lt. Gregg Hastings, the Oregon state police spokesman who called the Chamber of Commerce visit story “false” to see what he says.