Death Valley National Park Visitors Find Man’s Body Near Zabriskie Point

by Amy Myers

Earlier this week, several Death Valley National Park visitors discovered the body of a man who had died near Zabriskie Point in the southeastern region of the park.

The fellow visitors found the body of 67-year-old David Kelleher from Huntington Beach, CA, on Tuesday, June 14. Prior to the discovery, on June 8, a Death Valley National Park ranger took note of a single vehicle in the Zabriskie Point parking lot. Three days later, the ranger recognized that the car remained in the same spot. Even more alarming, the park had seen record temperatures of 123 degrees Fahrenheit during an intense heat wave.

Once the park staff launched an investigation, they uncovered that no one had reported Kelleher missing, and he was even the subject of an off-roading citation more than a week earlier.

Rangers knew that Kelleher must have been in some sort of trouble, given the dangerously high temperatures the area had seen. So, they initiated a ground and areal search for the man, focusing on the Golden Canyon and Badlands Trails. Among the equipment was a U.S. Navy VX-31 helicopter. Unfortunately, though, with temperatures still extremely high, teams couldn’t risk exposure for too long.

Investigators also found a “crumpled note” placed in Kelleher’s car that read “Out of gas.”

Previously, on May 30, the man had mentioned to a park ranger that he was low on gas.

Death Valley National Park Visitors Locate Kelleher’s Body Just Yards from Highway

Sadly, while likely searching for help, Kelleher passed away roughly two-and-a-half miles from his car. Visitors found the 67-year-old man’s body just 30 feet from Highway 190, hidden by the area’s terrain.

This is just a few miles from where rescue crews focused their search. However, because Kelleher was beneath a mesquite tree, they could not locate him in their efforts.

It’s unclear just how Kelleher passed away just yet, but because of the heat wave, it is probable that he died from exposure to the high heat. This is the park’s second fatality in just this month alone. On June 1, staff located the body of John McCarry (69), of Long Beach, CA. Another visitor, Peter Harootunian, remains missing since May 23.

Death Valley National Park staff urged that if visitors are stranded with a broken-down vehicle, the best way to survive is to stay put. Guests should also be aware that hiking at low elevations after 10 a.m. can be increasingly dangerous as it will be much hotter at the park’s lowest points. To remain safe during a heat wave, hikers should consider staying within a short distance of air conditioning. Also important is to have plenty of potable water and salty snacks.