The investigation began over the weekend when Yellowstone National Park rangers discovered a woman’s body within the national park.
Unlike the majority of reports to come out of America’s first national park, no wildlife is involved. Instead, on the evening of Saturday, May 13, 2023, Yellowstone rangers would first respond to a vehicular incident on Craig Pass.
About 3 miles south of Old Faithful, they found a single vehicle that had been driven into a snowbank. A lone male was spotted standing outside the car. Shortly after, rangers found “a deceased female inside the car,” the park reports in their media release to Outsider.
The male was quickly detained and subsequently arrested. Initial charges do not include murder, however, but drug possession within Yellowstone and traffic-related charges instead.
Now, investigators are working to determine what led to this woman’s death. She has been identified, but her identity is being kept private as authorities attempt to notify next-of-kin.
Park officials closed down the road between Old Faithful and West Thumb for approximately 24 hours while the scene was processed. It would reopen Sunday evening.
“Additional information will be provided as the investigation proceeds,” Yellowstone concludes. “The investigation is being performed by the National Park Service (Investigative Services Branch and Yellowstone Law Enforcement Division), with support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Attorney’s Office, and Teton County Coroner’s Office.”
Traffic incidents kill more people in national parks every year, including Yellowstone, than anything else
Despite being overlooked in many cases, traffic incidents are the leading cause of death in U.S. National Parks.
Yellowstone is a vast and diverse wilderness area, however, one that is hard to police. With millions of visitors annually engaging in various activities, incidents of many other kinds also occur. An exhaustive report from last year cites 8 murders in the park since it came to be in the late 1800s.
Other causes of death in Yellowstone vary. They include natural phenomena, accidents, medical emergencies, drownings, falls, encounters with wildlife, or other unforeseen circumstances. And the leading cause of death in Yellowstone, historically speaking, is scalding by geothermal features. It’s worth noting that deaths in the park are relatively rare compared to the large number of visitors it receives each year (around 4 million).
The National Park Service (NPS) keeps records and investigates incidents that occur within the park’s boundaries, including deaths. NPS also provides information and safety guidelines to educate visitors about potential risks and how to minimize them.
While the majority of visits to the park are safe and enjoyable, it is important to understand and respect the potential dangers associated with such a wild and geologically active environment.
For more information about safety in the park, see our Yellowstone National Park Safety Breakdown next.