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Oregon Family Loses Direction, Experiences Tragedy

After spending Thanksgiving with family in Seattle, Washington, the Kim family began their long journey back to San Francisco on November 24, 2006. James and Kati, along with their daughters Penelope (4) and Sabine (7 months), traveled south on Interstate 5 until late in the evening, intending to exit onto Highway 42 and spend the night in an upscale lodge. But they missed their turn.

Instead of backtracking, the Kims decided to follow an alternate route. Using an official Oregon Department of Transportation road map, they traveled 62 miles south and drove onto Bear Camp Road, which seemed like a more direct path to the southern Oregon Coast. Tragically, both James and Kati failed to notice a small box on the map indicating that the road might be closed during winter. The Kims eventually encountered warning signs announcing that snow drifts had blocked the pass, and decided to turn off onto a spur road. According to George Arnold, an area resident, this was a tragic decision: "Once you get off that main road," he said, "you're lost."

After struggling for 15 miles along the unpaved road, their station wagon became stuck in the drifting snow. Rather than attempting to backtrack on foot, the family decided to remain with the car and hope for rescue. They remained there for a week, running the car intermittently for heat and rationing their small amount of food. Once the gas ran out, they burned magazines, wet wood, and eventually car tires in an effort to keep warm.

Finally, on Saturday, December 1, James Kim decided to leave his wife and young daughters and set off on foot in order to find help. Again looking at the map, he determined that the town of Galice was about 4 miles away. But according to state police officer Gregg Hastings, the distance was actually 15 miles. James's body was found the following Wednesday. He died of exposure and hypothermia.

After waiting two days for her husband to return, Kati gathered up her children and began her own trek to find help. Thankfully, she was spotted by rescue helicopters and saved soon after.

The Kims were not the first family to venture through Oregon's back roads in search of a shortcut to the coast. In March of 2005, Peter Stivers survived a 17-day ordeal on a similar road with his wife, two children, and mother. Stivers' family had a motor home and more abundant supplies, but he still understands the terror that the Kims must have felt. "You're all alone," he said, "and you don't know if anybody's coming for you."

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