CENTRAL POINT, Ore. - James Kim built a fire to keep his wife and two daughters warm in the snow by their stranded car, shouldered a small backpack, and set out for what he thought would be a fairly short hike to help.
An online editor from San Francisco, stranded on a remote logging road deep in the Rogue River Canyon, he did not know after going practically without food for a week that just a mile or so downhill at the end of a rugged jeep road was a fishing lodge, closed for the winter, where he could have found shelter, warmth and enough food for months.
"He has no way to know" about Black Bar Lodge, Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson said Thursday at the state police office here after authorities released more details of Kim's death from hypothermia while struggling to find help for his family. "It's a tragedy."
"I wish Mr. Kim would have found the place," said John James, who runs Black Bar Lodge with his family. "It would have been a Cinderella Story. It would have been a beautiful ending to a sad story. Certainly a person in desperation or dire straights could have broke through a window and found some sustenance that literally could have lasted them through the rest of the winter."
The Los Angeles Times reported that vandals had cut the lock on a gate that should have stopped the Kim family from taking a spur road that led to a deadly wilderness ordeal, the Forest Service said Thursday.
"That road is gated for the winter, and it was gated on November 1," said Patty Burel, a spokeswoman for the service and the federal Bureau of Land Management. "During the search for the Kim family, it was discovered that the lock had been cut off, and the gate opened."
Burel said there was now a "law-enforcement investigation into this vandalism that may have contributed to this tragedy."
The Kim family had driven from San Francisco to Seattle for Thanksgiving and were on their way home, planning to spend the night of Nov. 25 at a luxury lodge outside Gold Beach on the coast. They never made it.
After more than a week with little food and nothing but a car for shelter, Kati Kim and her daughters, Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, were spotted Monday by a search helicopter. They were rescued in good condition.
James Kim, 35, was found dead Wednesday, five days after setting out on foot. An autopsy attributed his death to hypothermia. There were no signs of injury.
He was lying on his back in about a foot of water, the backpack still on. He was fully clothed. The medical examiner could not determine when he died.
But state police Lt. Gregg Hastings said Kim had walked five miles up a road, then five more miles down rugged Big Windy Creek before he died.
Searchers said the body was a half-mile from the Rogue River, which would put it about a mile from Black Bar Lodge, which is open May through October for people boating the Rogue River.
Despite his long hike, he was just a mile as the crow flies from the car, which was near the start of the jeep road that leads about a mile to Black Bar Lodge.
"Every single year we give directions to lost tourists all the way out at Black Bar," said James. "It's people not knowing where they're going."
North of Grants Pass
Driving south on Interstate 5 on Nov. 25, the Kims had missed the turnoff they planned to take to the coast south of Roseburg, and after consulting a roadmap, they turned off instead at the community of Merlin just north of Grants Pass, following a thin gray line on the map through the Siskiyou National Forest that offered a direct route first to the tiny community of Agness, then along the Rogue River to Gold Beach.
They passed signs warning Bear Camp Road might be blocked by snow, but kept going.
At times James had to stick his head out the window to see through the falling snow, said Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings.
A dozen miles up the one-lane paved road, they came to a fork and turned right, leaving the road to Agness and descending into a confusing warren of logging roads.
By the time they turned around they were 15 miles off Bear Camp Road and stopped in a place they hoped to be spotted from the air, fearing they were running out of gasoline, searchers said.
Kati Kim told investigators that they stopped at 2 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, and tried calling for help on a cell phone but could not get service. They stayed in the car as it snowed and rained for three days.
Their only food was some baby food, jelly and bottled water, Hastings said. When the bottled water ran out, they melted snow. When the food ran out, Mrs. Kim nursed her two children.
On the eighth day stranded, James Kim decided to walk out.
His wife told investigators he thought he was just four miles down the Rogue River from Galice. It was closer to 15. But he felt he could follow the river to help.
"James Kim did nothing wrong," Hastings said.
"He was trying to save his family."