Shaming and blaming and the tragic death of James Kim


Over at Salon.com, Sarah Keech has a thoughful article about the Kim Family story, though I read it as a somewhat too defensive reaction to the letter from James’ Kim’s father Spencer published in the Washington Post last week.

In “Who’s to Blame for James Kim’s Death” Keech suggests, correctly in my view:

It’s not the federal government or law enforcement or the people who tried to rescue him from the Oregon wilderness.

Ironically, Spencer Kim would probably agree with her statement.   I’ve been concerned at the tone of many locals who have suggested a father, grieving his son no less, has no right to suggest that better maps, signs, gates and policies might have kept this from happening. Of course he has that right and his letter was in my opinion quite a reasonable reaction given that Mr. Kim has just lost his son to an unforgiving Oregon winter wilderness.

I know this area well and it’s common knowledge that signs on the Bear Camp Road could use improvement.   Money and priorities are legitimate issues with such improvements as are the rights people have to access to public lands.     A route that would be fine for an experienced hunter with 4WD Truck, chains, winter gear and provisions may become a death trap for a family car.

Here’s my reply to the Salon article:

Ms. Keech you have made several good and several obvious points about the folly of legislating solutions on the basis of unusual and tragic events, but that’s not the big story of the Kims tragic trip into Oregon’s Rogue River Wilderness. I think Spencer Kim’s letter is a reasonable characterization of the many challenges facing the search effort, though I agree the solutions suggested are far too expensive to justify the handful of lives this might save over many years. Better to spend on life saving measures that have a much higher return on the investment of tax dollars.

But that is _not_ the big story here!

As a southern Oregon local and long term resident of the region the Kim Family story capitivated me from the beginning. This interest has become almost obsessive as I blogged the event – almost play by play – as “Joe Duck”.

The Kim story is the triumph of a mother and children surviving the wilderness after nine days, and a father heroically challenging that wilderness in an unsuccessful, tragic hike to save them. It’s the story of an enormous and sometimes heroic search and rescue effort that was well intentioned at all times, but plagued by many of the bureaucratic forces that are likely to be proposed as the solution to future problems in Oregon. Perhaps more than anything the Kim Story is remarkable because it has touched the lives of millions around the world, millions who saw in the Kim’s happy family their own family and the life-shattering consequences of a single wrong turn on what appeared to be a passable road.