HomeOutdoorsNewsUnlicensed Group Tour Guide Faces Charges After Hiker Falls to Death

Unlicensed Group Tour Guide Faces Charges After Hiker Falls to Death

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Strekoza2 via Getty Images)

For many hikers, a day on the trails with friends, or even a group of strangers, is far superior to solo hiking. When hiking with a group, however, it’s even more important to be brutally honest with yourself about your limitations. There’s nothing wrong with a challenge. But going too far in the name of keeping up with your companions can result in serious injury – even death.

A great way to take your hiking skills to the next level is to follow a licensed guide. Someone familiar with the area with a vast amount of experience who can help you along the way. Choosing the right guide, however, is crucial. Particularly with the rise of social media, unlicensed guides are countless. These “experts” don’t have the proper training or experience to assist others on treacherous trails and yet charge to do so.

One such guide is currently facing criminal charges after leading a Missouri hiker to his death on a trail near Buffalo National River in Arkansas.

A tragic accident during a hike with friends is one thing, but this guide was charging dozens of people to be led on hikes across “some of the most rugged terrains in the Ozarks” without the proper permits. The incident in question occurred back in May of this year when the Missouri man fell approximately 20 feet from the Indian Trail drainage of Buffalo National River, according to a release from the National Park Service.

Unlicensed Guide to Receive Sentencing in March Following Hiker Death

Later identified as 46-year-old Brad Lee Thomas, he and another hiker turned back after deeming the terrain too dangerous to pass. The guide, Jeffrey M. Johnson, didn’t realize that his patrons had left the group and continued on without them.

According to Veronica Gilmore, Thomas’ companion, the pair agreed with another participant that they would meet at the group’s lunch spot. Three hours passed after their arrival, however, and the group was nowhere to be found. At that point, Thomas said, “I think we should go ahead and go. We’ve waited almost three hours, and nobody has shown up,” Gilmore testified.

Daniel Romes, a Buffalo National River park ranger, testified that the hike is extremely hazardous. He claimed that another hiker suffered a leg injury in Johnson’s care just 6 days before the fatal hike. The ranger tried to prevent the May 7 hike by waiting at the scheduled meeting spot. Sadly, though, the hikers met somewhere else.

Dozens of first responders and volunteers rushed to the scene in an effort to locate and rescue Brad Lee Thomas. Unfortunately, however, he remained unresponsive and was eventually pronounced dead.

Johnson was found guilty of violating two Code of Federal Regulations: 36 CFR 2.37, illegally soliciting money, goods, or services, and 36 CFR 5.3, engaging or soliciting business in park areas without a permit. The unlicensed guide is set to receive sentencing in March 2023.