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    BLM left gate open on road to Kims' fate

    Snowbound family - After blaming vandals, the U.S. agency learns its workers failed to bar the entry to a maze of logging spurs
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    Thursday, December 14, 2006
    PETER SLEETH

    Federal workers failed to lock a gate blocking the logging road that led James Kim to his death last week -- a different story than has been told since his death and his family's rescue.

    The U.S. Bureau of Land Management was supposed to lock the gate near the entrance of the road, known only as 34-8-36, on Nov. 1. The gate is meant to prevent people from turning onto a maze of logging spurs instead of staying on Bear Camp Road, which cuts through the mountains to the Oregon Coast.

    Officials with the agency have maintained since last week that the gate had been locked but was later vandalized. But BLM spokesman Michael Campbell said Wednesday that an internal investigation this week into the suspected vandals turned up the surprising culprit: the agency itself.

    "The idea was our BLM engineer, the lead engineer, had directed the staff to go out there and lock the gate on Nov. 1, Campbell said. "Basically what they found was, when they got out there, they were unable to confirm no one was trapped behind the gate. So they made the decision not to close it."

    An internal investigation into the lapse is under way, Campbell said.

    The family disappeared 21 miles up the spur road on Nov. 25 as they drove to Gold Beach from Merlin along Interstate 5. Kim's wife, Kati, 30, and daughters Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, were found Dec. 4 on the narrow logging road, after being stuck in the snow for nine days with few supplies.

    James Kim, 35, was found dead two days later in a creek. He had walked more than 16 miles in the cold and snow in a futile effort to get help.

    Scott Nelson Windels, a close friend of James and Kati Kim, said he was not upset about the fact that the gate was left unlocked. Family members could not be reached for comment.

    "It's not going to change anything that happened," said Nelson Windels, one of the organizers of the family's search effort. "I will just hope that will change what will happen in the future and help other people."

    Campbell said he did not know why the BLM crew never returned to lock the gate.

    "We don't really know the mind-set of the staff," he said. "This question is going to be part of our internal review of our policies and procedure."

    In the Medford District of the BLM, there are approximately 5,000 miles of road to police, he said. It may well have been that BLM staff simply forgot, Campbell said.

    The gate was locked Dec. 6 and will remain locked for the winter.

    In that area along Bear Camp Road, three of seven BLM roads have gates, a BLM spokeswoman said.

    Two are blocked to prevent diseases from being carried into the forest that would harm Port Orford cedar trees. The third gate, on road 34-8-36, is there specifically to prevent people from wandering onto that road. It is a common occurrence as the road splits in a confusing manner, she said.

    The Kim family mistakenly traveled far up the logging road before being stuck in the snow.

    Elizabeth Suh of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report. Peter Sleeth: 503-294-4119; petersleeth@news.oregonian.com



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