Coroner: Teen died of exposure [Idaho]


Sage of Seattle
February 16, 2007, 05:09 PM
Coroner: Teen died of exposure (
Report finds no signs of other injuries; findings are preliminary until results of additional tests are in
By Heath Druzin - Idaho Statesman
Edition Date: 02/16/07

Exposure to the cold killed a Nampa teen found dead Tuesday after becoming stranded in the Boise National Forest, Boise County Sheriff's officials said.

Jennifer Burkey's body showed no signs of other injuries other than those caused by exposure, officials said. The findings are preliminary, and final coroner's and toxicology reports are expected in about two weeks.

Investigators are still trying to determine the events that led to her death, Boise County Chief Deputy Bill Braddock said.

"We've determined she died of exposure but have not decided whether or not circumstances around that merit criminal charges," he said.

Burkey, 18, died after she and two companions, Ashley Benbrook, 23, and Joseph Dobyns, 32, became stranded Saturday in the backcountry east of Idaho City with no supplies. The three remained snowbound on Rabbit Creek Road for more than three days.

Rescue crews found Burkey's body late Tuesday after Benbrook walked out of the woods onto Idaho 21 and told deputies where to find his companions.

As first reported in the Idaho Statesman, Benbrook said the three drove eight miles up the snowmobile trail to hunt coyotes but got stuck when the silver Dodge Durango slid into a ditch. The road was marked closed to motor vehicles.

Benbrook said the trio made a series of missteps that left them miles from their truck and soaking wet.

Braddock confirmed some details of Benbrook's story, including that the three had hunting weapons. Braddock said both Benbrook and Dobyns were questioned and released Tuesday night.

To some, Benbrook's story, recounted in Thursday's Statesman, seems inexplicable. He said the three drove to the mountains without proper provisions, although they did have warm coats. At one point, Burkey lost her shoes, so they fashioned makeshift ones using gloves. Then, when Burkey collapsed during one of their attempts to find help, the other two walked on, thinking she would catch up because it had happened before.

A doctor, however, explained that making poor decisions can be a sign of hypothermia.

Dr. Brandon Wilding said people exposed to long periods of cold and whose body temperatures fall often have decreased blood flow to the brain causing diminished mental function. Wilding, who works in the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center emergency room, cited cases where people have been within sight of rescuers and not walked toward them, dying hundreds of yards from safety.

"In that state, people can do things that are not what a normal, reasoning person would do," he said.

A snowstorm left Benbrook, Burkey and Dobyns soaked during their ordeal. Wilding said wet clothes can speed up a person's body heat loss by 30 percent.

The trio didn't tell anyone where they were going when they left Boise Saturday evening and their disappearance triggered a massive search. The search started in the desert south of Kuna, where Dobyns and Benbrook sometimes went shooting, some 60 miles from where the three were eventually found.

Authorities didn't know the three were in Boise County until Benbrook emerged from the mountains on Idaho 21 on Tuesday and got a ride to the Boise County Sheriff's station in Idaho City.

Braddock didn't have a cost estimate on his county's portion of the rescue but he said costs are mounting for the continuing investigation.

"As in almost every case, the cost is going to fall on the taxpayers of Boise County," he said.

The story has stirred a lot of public interest. The Boise County Sheriff's Office, a small agency not usually in the spotlight, has been bombarded with calls and dealing with the news media onslaught. Braddock said news trucks from Channels 7 and 2 became stuck on Rabbit Creek Road while trying to reach the scene of the trio's ordeal.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Heath Druzin at or 373-6617.


I'm not really active in outdoorsman type activities, though I plan on getting out more this year and I thought this story is another good example to help spread the message of some of the most important things to do in case of getting lost hiking or traveling in the wilderness.

The part that got me was the article explains how, during hypothermia, thinking gets clouded and illogical. My point would be, why didn't they do the thinking BEFORE they left? Tell people where they were going is the first rule, I would imagine, and how long you plan on being gone. Even a note or a voicemail for someone is better than nothing if your trip is last minute.

Now, if I were stuck in my vehicle in the same situation, my priorities would be as follows:
1) shelter (the truck works)
2) heat (fire building skills or running the motor of the truck periodically)
3) potable water (bringing drinks or melting snow through body heat or #2)
4) signaling (radio, cell phone, mirror, whistle; anything along those lines)

Food would be far down the list. My reasoning could be faulty, so I would appreciate any input on my priorities. My thoughts center around "what would I die of the fastest in snowy conditions" and address those conditions first.

As to Ms. Burkey and her family, my heart goes out to them in their time of sorrow.

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February 16, 2007, 05:34 PM
What gets me is that with a truck as big as the Durango, they didn't have any extra supplies with them? Didn't they hear about James Kim a few months ago?

At the very least, I keep a first aid kit, spare blankets, food, and water in my little Honda Accord.
I also carry multiple ways to start a fire, a GPS, cellphone, knives, and flashlights as well.

Then again, I do watch "Survivorman," "I Shouldn't Be Alive," and "Man vs. Wild" every chance I get, so I may be a little paranoid. :D

February 16, 2007, 06:12 PM
This is really sad. I feel sorry for all of them. It is, however, a case of natural selection it seems to me. They went into a dangerous place, situation (sounds as if they went where they were NOT supposed to be also) and did not take provisions for the situation. Being young and apparantly too unfamiliar with the uncaring outdoors in winter was a fatal flaw.

February 16, 2007, 06:21 PM
It still smells fishy to me. There are no coyotes in the area where they were. They say they walked the wrong direction after they got stuck in the snow. Um, how about the tracks you just made, walking back down those same tracks?

I don't know, I guess I am too critical of the city folk considering I grew up less than 20 miles from where this went down.

johnny blaze
February 16, 2007, 06:52 PM
It really does not surprise me.
Did you ever see people running around when it is 10 degrees with out a coat on? Alot of people are not prepared for what they may face.
In the traffic jam in Pennsylvania just 2 days ago, many people ran out of gas in their vehicles as they ran them constantly until all the fuel was gone, and ended up facing the elements. Not too smart.
Then again, possibly could have been foul play, who knows.

February 16, 2007, 06:56 PM
I'm not really surprised either. I'd be willing to bet that less than half of the readers of this posting has a basic first aid kit, let-alone simple survival items in their car.

February 16, 2007, 07:01 PM
That's foothills country.

Just beginning to get mountainous.

Rabbit Creek Rd is -- what -- a Forest Service road?

Middle of stinking winter?

Yes, even the older, smaller Durango will hold plenty of gear.

It sounds like a couple of punk kids (adults, yes, but punk kids nonetheless) accompanied by an idiot figured they'd go have a quick testosterone trip.

Were these kids raised in Idaho, or were they imports? It's not clear from the story.

Things have sure changed since I was eighteen. You might have gotten me to drive into the mountains, but drive up an NFS road? In enough snow where you can't see the edges of the roadway? Middle of winter?

Hell, even when I worked for the USDA Forestry guys surveying in winter, we never pulled anything as dumb as that. We always had ropes, shovels, emergency gear. We got stuck a time or two, but we always had what we needed to get back out.

It sucks. It's sad. And it's terminally stupid.

February 16, 2007, 07:33 PM
IDAHO SHOOTING -It still smells fishy to me. There are no coyotes in the area where they were. They say they walked the wrong direction after they got stuck in the snow. Um, how about the tracks you just made, walking back down those same tracks?"

I'll second the motion. Sounds fishy to me, too. Plus, the two young men who survived, have begun telling some different stories as opposed to when they were first questioned.

I've been up on Rabbit Creek Road several times, and am pretty sure I know about where they were "stuck." Boys and girls, it's pretty hard to become "stuck" in only one foot of snow when you're driving a recent 4x4 vehicle such as a Durango.

And as Id. Shooting said, there are no coyotes to speak of up there... where there ARE coyotes south of the little town of Kuna, on BLM land, where some said the two young men sometimes went to shoot.

They didn't tell anyone where they were going?? Hmmmm. One of the young men was married and has a child... yet, he didn't bother to tell his wife where they were going?? Hmmmm.

They could have walked right back down the road in their own tracks and been out on the well travelled, paved, cleared highway in a couple of hours. Then a short drive to Idaho City, the county seat, and a nice hot meal and a cold beer.

I've watched Benbrook, one of the survivors whose girlfriend died, being interviewed on teevee, and he struck me as a "less than credible" person, shall I say. :uhoh:

Nope, I'll reserve my idea of what happened in this scenario until the toxicological reports on the dead girl are published.

As for being stupid enough to go out into the cold, winter boonies... there are a myriad of like minded morons in this country who do it every year... and sometimes have to pay the final price.

Just my take on it and that's my opinion.


February 16, 2007, 08:52 PM
Not exactly S&T material. Certainly not evolving into an S&T thread. Rather than closing it, I moved it to General.

February 16, 2007, 10:18 PM

I fully expected it to be locked for being OT, but I guess there is the yote hunting and cold suvival, or serious lacking of both in this case, to talk about.

February 16, 2007, 10:47 PM
Wow... the FIRST thing about off-roading that ANYONE with a 4X4 should learn is the "buddy system"... either a buddy in a second vehicle, OR someone who expects contact at a known time and place, either in person or by communication device, and who knows WHERE you are headed...

SECOND thing is to "be prepared" for minor repairs to the vehicle (water, in safe clean containers can save a radiator/coolant problem, OR a human's life) a blanket, energy food, and minor recovery gear... like, OH, I dunno, a shovel and a chain and a come-along...

I'll wager on a FSR, that there were trees closeby, and even if not, dig a hole with the shovel, bury the spare tire with the chain attached, and come-along the truck onto the road...

stupidity all around, and a fishy story to boot...

February 17, 2007, 01:06 AM
Well, with the basic knowledge base of people nowadays, you only really need to be medium stupid to die from environmental hazards. Anyone know the ballpark outdoor temperatures when this happened? -50, maybe, but 20 degrees, no.

To some, Benbrook's story, recounted in Thursday's Statesman, seems inexplicable. He said the three drove to the mountains without proper provisions, although they did have warm coats. At one point, Burkey lost her shoes, so they fashioned makeshift ones using gloves. Then, when Burkey collapsed during one of their attempts to find help, the other two walked on, thinking she would catch up because it had happened before.

That's not any kind of sign of hypothermia, that's a sign of foul play. You don't wander out in extreme cold without a decent poly base layer, insulating mid layer, and waterproof/breathable outer, and you definitely don't just happen to loose your shoes. And you don't leave an 18 year old girl with gloves on her feet behind when she collapses unless you're malicious or an utter cretin.

Sage of Seattle
February 17, 2007, 02:36 AM

This quote in Jeff White's sticky under S&T is what made me think this would be appropriate.

What should I carry in my pockets, pack, car, have in my case of a car breakdown, I get lost in the wilderness, there is a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, and what have other members done in those situations. Are on topic and welcome.

Basically, if there is a real likelyhood that it could happen to a member it's on topic.

Reading the article from the Idaho Statesman made me think of several questions, unfortunately it seems they were ignored.

Thank you for moving it to a more appropriate subforum.

February 17, 2007, 04:02 AM
Logan I think old-fashioned clothes from Value Village work just as well, but we agree that leaving someone behind who fell down is really wrong, malicious.

Incidentally the exposure times required for things like hypothermia and frost-bite are usually much longer than people imagine.

There was a great article in a magazine called 'Saturday Night' up here where a reporter was experimented on, put in a cold room, sitting down, with a rectal thermometer. Then after half an hour in shorts they turned a fan on him. Then after half an hour of that they started spraying water into the fan. And after a while of that he still wan't clinically hypothermic, though he didn't want any more of it.

Sage like you said, finding water's not a problem. But you do need food energy, though you'll be fine without it, if more tired and colder. Guys trekking in the arctic take bars of margarine and just munch on them plain, energetic and edible when cold.

If you've got a truck them you don't really need shelter, but if you are too cold and blankets or snuggling doesn't keep you warm I guess you'd build a fire and heat rocks up in it, then take the rocks into the truck.

For signalling if you have the ability to make fire the next thing you should do, immediately, is set up a tall pyramid of evergreen boughs over some kindling & wood that's ready to be set on fire at a moment's notice. Or pee on your campfire, they both make lots of smoke:) If no-one's looking for you you're in trouble, but planes might still report the smoke, since it's more than a campfire.

February 17, 2007, 09:47 AM
Logan - "Anyone know the ballpark outdoor temperatures when this happened? -50, maybe, but 20 degrees, no."

10 - 15 F at night, 40 - 45 F during the day.

February 17, 2007, 10:15 AM
Were they really not smart enough to walk back down the road to safety? I would think in a situation like that, you wouldn't gamble. Take the sure thing...and the sure thing here is that you know where the road goes. Yeah it's a cold hike but but it beats wandering in the woods.

And how do you lose your shoes?

Couldn't they have carried her if she couldn't walk?

Why didn't they tell anyone where they were going?

Why were there zero supplies?

Lots of questions...the lack of any kind of preparation is pretty hard to believe, either something's up or they really are that foolish. But if you follow the original link to the article you'll see that Jennifer and Ashley don't look like the outdoor types.

It smells fishy but it could just be a complete lack of good judgment all the way around.

February 17, 2007, 10:21 AM
Hmm...this link explains more. "Woefully unprepared" is my best guess now.

February 17, 2007, 10:31 AM
Truly, a sad story. I can't say that I haven't done some pretty stupid stuff on the spur of the moment. Sooner or later though, the luck runs out.


February 17, 2007, 10:33 AM
Survival isn't instinct for humans, they have to learn it. Most folks these days have very little experience outdoors. It's certainly possible to live your whole life going from central-air-to-auto-to-central air and never be on anything wilder than a manicured lawn. How many people do you know that can make fire, find north, pick a spot and build shelter?

Wasn't it just a month or so ago that a really good software designer, an accomplished businessman and a pretty good guy died after trying to walk out from his family's snow-bound car? He didn't walk back down the road either.

I would be totally unsurprised to hear of two teens walking off and leaving a third, or believe that a teen girl could walk out of her shoes and lose them in the snow. No experience in her life had prepared her for this. I bet her outside time, much less wilderness time, was less than a couple days per year, max. Maybe zero. I bet she hadn't ever raked leaves.

You have to learn and you have to have experience.

February 17, 2007, 11:47 AM
Might be appropriate to post the Rule of Threes, for those who haven't heard of it:

You can survive only ...

3 hours without shelter
3 days without water
3 weeks without food

February 17, 2007, 11:53 AM
I'm not Mr. outdoors, but let me get this straight, two guys take a girl into the wilderness during a snow storm, she looses her shoes? then they leave her because they figured she would catch up? there are two of them, if it were me I would have careied her as far as I could. There is NO WAY I would leave annie in a snow storm with out shoes!!! This smell's bad. :fire:

February 17, 2007, 11:54 AM
My guess is that the girl was wearing those silly slip-on/off shoes that don't have any upper around the heel :rolleyes:

That, and people these days don't seem to have any clue how to extricate an even mildly "stuck" vehicle. If pushing on the gas harder doesn't help, they are hopeless. :rolleyes:

When I used to go out camping in my 4x4 pickup, I would get stuck and unstuck several times per trip - it was all part of the fun. I used to joke that I carried enough tools (including firearm and ammo) that if I got too stuck that I could just build a log cabin and live there a few years. ;)

February 17, 2007, 12:36 PM
Oh wow this is crazy. All my trucks have winches on the front but My toy has em front and back. Thats what they should teach in school is surviaval skills. If it wasn't for my Dad i wouldn't have known what to do either but way back when i was goofing off and got my stupid a$$ stuck and i mean real stuck well i let my wife sit in the truck (at that time she was my girlfriend) I left it run but i had a diesel and 3/4 of tank of fuel plus a 100 gallons in my auxirally tank in the back so i had plenty of fuel for her to stay warm i used skills my dad taught me i got out drove home never told anyone i even got stuck. And there have been other times too but i could start a whole book on them lol.

February 17, 2007, 12:44 PM
This is very sad.

I've read quite a few stories like this, some that turned out well, and others that didn't. There are so many variables that affect the outcomes that it's really hard to say whether or not this story is legit. It's often a combination of mental and tactical preparedness, combined with luck. My reading of this one is that it is more about bad judgement than about malice.

One thing that stood out to me was that the girl showed up in dress shoes. She clearly was not mentally prepared for this kind of situation. I also keyed in on this because my wife has already gotten some extra walking shoes to go in her car.

General Geoff
February 17, 2007, 12:53 PM
I have yet to really get *stuck* in a vehicle, the worst I've had to do was rock my way back and forth between reverse and drive a few times to cover a snow drift.

That said, if I ever *did* get really stuck, I always have AT LEAST a blanket, a box of pop tarts, a gallon of water, a long length of heavy chain and a three foot stainless steel rod (along with a small tool kit) to get me out/stay alive till help arrives.

Green Lantern
February 17, 2007, 01:19 PM
A hard lesson that sometimes there is MORE to being prepared than just having a gun. It isn't hard, or expensive. All it takes is a little THOUGHT.

..the lack of any kind of preparation is pretty hard to believe

No it isn't, at least in MY opinion. I live in the mountains. Going to work for most everyone around here takes at LEAST a good half hour to hour's commute, some of them through totally uninhabited areas.

I'm the ONLY one I know of to keep more nourishment in the car than a half-empty Mountain Dew bottle! :D ....:( Except my cousin, who's commute is almost TOTALLY through the boonies proper - I bought her one of those MOLLE-bag 3-day kits from Cheaper Than Dirt and supplmented it a bit as a gift for her.

February 17, 2007, 05:39 PM
One way or another those men murdered that young woman. Either they were incredibly stupid and reckless to first put her in such peril, and secondly to abandon her. I don't care how muddled your thinking becomes, but to abandon a woman in the wilderness?!

I agree with the "fishy" comments. Sounds more like two men having their way with a young woman, getting carried away, and deciding it would be beter if she didn;t survive the 'ordeal."

To make this more clearly gun related, I think her chances of survival would have been better if she had a S&W 642 or Glock 26 handy.

Maybe she could have resisted and turned back. Or worst case, she could have shot the cowards intha back when they abandon her. Then she could use them like the proverbial sled dogs in a blizzard on an ice floe (warmth, food, etc.). I am only half jesting. :D

I hope tis gets thoroughly investigated. Reckless endangerment or negligent homicide a least (no I am not a lawyer or LEO so tell me what would be correct, I'm guessing here); or premeditated, viscious kidnapping and murder at worst.

Aguila Blanca
February 17, 2007, 05:56 PM
I wish my wife would read a few stories like this one, and the one about the softwear engineer. She and I are a study in contrasts.

We both drive Jeeps. In the back of mine you'll find spare coolant, spare motor oil, a small-ish basic tool set, a commando sweater, a winter-weight jacket, a packet of four mylar survival blankets, a flashlight, a lot of rope and straps and stuff, a roll of duct tape, a Mag-Lite, an emergency strobe light, and a first aid kit.

In the back of hers you'll find the factory spare tire, the factory jack, and the factory lug wrench. She doesn't want any of the other stuff because it doesn't look "organized." She took over my newer Jeep when we got married. I had the same "kit" in that one. She removed it all within a week. Go figure.

Green Lantern
February 17, 2007, 09:20 PM
Aguila - ooooooooo, that would KILL me! :cuss:

I think my "natural enemy" is ANY neat-freak.

I can understand the mindset of most of my family much better, that they find it too "stressful" and "depressing" to think about. Which is maddening in it's own way, I suppose....

February 17, 2007, 11:44 PM
As frequently as I wish for "stupid" to be painful, it's very sad when it becomes fatal.

I always carry my Eagle AIII MOLLE pack with me, everywhere I go. I live in the woods of northern Minnesota and I'm always doing outdoor activities. I mean it literally when I say that the nearest town is 45 miles away. I just can't see something like this happening to me. Another product of the "nanny state", if I do say so myself. We've gotten out of the conditioning that let our forefathers know that bad things could happen when noone is around and that it's up to us to be responsible for it.

Now, in my JEEP, geez.... someone said that if they got stuck bad enough, they'd just build a log house. Thats about how I am. Chainsaw, winch on the front, come-along, gravel, E-tool, canvas tent, a wood stove that fits inside the tent, 5 or 10 gallons of water, at LEAST one box of MRE's, a box of tuna-in-a-pouch and a box of "just add boiling water" pasta stuff. It's just amazing how, sadly and tragically, unprepared some people are.

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