After hiker rescued from ‘horror show’, NH asks if criminal charges are next frontier

After hiker rescued from ‘horror show’, NH asks if criminal charges are next frontier
After hiker rescued from ‘horror show’, NH asks if criminal charges are next frontier

But through it all, he had seen nothing like this blatant case of ill-prepared blundering into danger. And that would represent a breaking point, prompting New Hampshire officials to take a defiant stance against the irresponsible hiking that has spilled over into the mountaineering world from the Cascades to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Two men in your twenties had taken a hike in Franconia Notch State Park afternoon of June 11 as if they were walking in their neighborhood. They wore short-sleeved shirts and shorts and brought no extra layers. They carried no food, water or equipment.

“They had nothing,” Kneeland said.

Considering the temperature was in the mid 70s that day, it might have been a relatively low risk. But after starting the Greenleaf Trail, a winding path in the rugged landscape of Mount Lafayette, they veered off course and started through the woods, then tried to scale Hounds Hump, an alpine rock popular with rock climbers, without equipment or skills in mountaineering.

Mount Lafayette, the ninth highest peak in the White Mountains, is seen from Franconia.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

It was a confusing miscalculation, rushing recklessly through unforgiving terrain, which put them in danger almost immediately. They separated and while one hiker made it to the top of the cliff, the other got stuck on a ledge, terrified of falling if he moved at all.

At 2:15 p.m., the trapped man called 911. He could not say where he was or how he got there. He said he could see the highway and thought they were somewhere on Hangman’s Trail on Alpine Mountain. Neither exists in New Hampshire.

“It was just a horror show from start to finish,” said Colonel Kevin Jordan, chief of law enforcement for the game and fish department.

As Kneeland oversaw the team of conservation officers and volunteers tasked with rescuing the wayward couple, he received 53 calls from the trapped hiker over the next two hours, pleading for help before he fell. . Rescuers below could hear his frantic screams and over time were able to coax him into moving cautiously into a more visible position. Using a drone to survey the rock face, they pinpointed its location. The climbers then abseiled to safety, just as the sun was beginning to set.

One of the rescuers, a professional rock climber, later recounted Kneeland, he would never take the hiker route, even with a harness and rope.

The hikers offered little explanation and no apology for their mishap, and the rescued hiker at the summit quickly requested an attorney. When Kneeland told Jordan about the ordeal, Jordan made a decision on the spot. For the first time in 30 years at the agency, officials would criminally charge the men for placing “another at risk of serious bodily harm”.

Colonel Kevin Jordan is Chief of Law Enforcement for the New Hampshire State Department of Fish and Game. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

After years of providing a safety net for wanderers hikers, it was time “to send a public message,” he said.

“The absolute purpose of indicting these guys – one of the main purposes – was to let people know that if you are this negligent, if you show this blatant disregard for human safety, there is a consequence for that and that is important,” Jordan said. “It’s a little warning shot.”

As the number of rescues and the risks involved have increased in recent years, New Hampshire officials have been quick to charge ill-prepared hikers the cost of rescue missions. But the financial the deterrence only went so far and the frustration kept mounting. There was a consensus among officials that a line had to be drawn.

Dylan Stahley, 25, of Windsor, NH, and Jason Feierstin, 22, of Lowell, were charged with reckless driving. In August, they pleaded guilty in exchange for the charges being reduced from a misdemeanor to a lesser violation. They were fined $200 and fined $48. Nor returned Globe requests for comments.

The extreme circumstances of the rescue, and the charges that followed, made headlines and reignited the debate on how to manage costs and risks search and rescue missions, especially in a state known for its love of the natural world and belief in personal responsibility. Lively discussions on the ethics of imposing fines or criminal sanctions raged on social media and hiker forums across the country.

“Some people think that if people are more aware that they will be financially responsible for a rescue, maybe they will be more conservative in what they do while they recreate,” said Wesley Trimble, gatekeeper. -word of the American Hiking Society. But others fear hikers who find themselves at risk may be reluctant to seek help, fearing “penalties and financial liability”, he said.

While the American Hiking Society has not taken an official position on the matter, accusations in New Hampshire have escalated a national conversation about the responsibility of people who love the great outdoors.

The steady increase in the number of novice hikers has led to more accidents, he said. Rescue teams were inundated with calls, raising questions about safety and funding.

“I think this New Hampshire case is just one more step” in the debate, Trimble said.

New Hampshire is among a handful of states — including Maine, Vermont, Oregon, Idaho, California and Hawaii — with laws that allow officials to charge people for the cost of rescues in certain scenarios. He is also seen as the most aggressive in pursuing such claims, which critics have described as punitive and potentially dangerous.

In an average year, about a dozen hikers are billed for the cost of being rescued, Jordan said. Last fiscal year, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department spent more than $240,000 on hikes and drowning rescues.

“There are a lot of people going in this direction because they’re all fed up. It’s costing the states a lot of money and there’s no accountability for it,” Jordan said. “So we get calls from all over the country asking how it works. And it works well for us. »

Three of New Hampshire’s top volunteer search and rescue teams — Mountain Rescue Service, Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue, and Pemigewasset Valley Search and Rescue — declined to comment on the matter. , instead referring the questions to state officials.

A hiker was transported to an ambulance after slipping and falling on the Falling Waters Trail in Franconia, NH New Hampshire Fish and Game Facebook

The increase in hikers since the pandemic is well documented in the Granite State. Every day, cars with license plates from Missouri to Rhode Island to Connecticut fill parking lots at trailheads, Jordan said. As families with young children in tow and city dwellers less accustomed to the threats of nature seek refuge in the mountains, officials and outdoor groups have emphasized safety by reporting details of crashes and rescue missions – often adding harsh recommendations to plan ahead.

About 200 rescue missions have been carried out each year in recent years. In September alone hikers had to be rescued after becoming stranded off trail in the dark, sustaining injuries that prevented them from going further or being separated from their group.

An injured hiker was airlifted from Mount Monadnock.Maully Shah

But some hikers with decades of experience believe that extreme cases deserve serious consequences.

Count Scott Taylor, 63, among this group. A hiker since childhood, the assistant chief of the Sanbornton Fire and Rescue Department is familiar with rescues and how difficult they can become. It was the death of someone he knew well – a volunteer named Albert Dow who was caught in an avalanche on Mount Washington in 1982 while trying to save a hiker – that was first sparked debate over who should be held accountable for the burden of mountain rescues. .

When people deliberately ignore guidelines or dismiss warnings about unsafe conditions, they put the lives of others at risk, he said. Volunteer teams and conservation officers, he noted, are “stretched out” and under-resourced.

“I certainly hope this sends a message” to other hikers who make poor decisions, he said of the charges. “I guess I find it upsetting because people think they’re invincible.”

The mercurial weather in the mountains poses greater danger as autumn sets in, and Kneeland expects the number of rescues – which have increased over the past two months – to continue to rise.

“It’s just one thing I felt like we needed to do to hopefully protect volunteers and rescuers on the road from reckless behavior,” he said. “I think I finally had enough.”


Shannon Larson can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.

. after rescue dun hiker show horror ask the charges criminal are next frontier

. hiker rescued horror show asks criminal charges frontier

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