DEATH VALLEY, CA – Park visitors found the body of David Kelleher on June 14 in Death Valley National Park. Kelleher appears to have been walking from Zabriskie Point toward Furnace Creek after running out of gas.
On the morning of June 8, a park ranger noticed that there was only one vehicle in Zabriskie Point parking lot. On the evening of June 11, the same park ranger saw only one vehicle in the parking lot and remembered it from three days earlier. A heat wave caused record temperatures, up to 123°F.
The vehicle was registered to David W. Kelleher (67), of Huntington Beach. Park rangers initiated an investigation and learned that Kelleher had not been reported missing. A records search also showed that a park ranger had cited Kelleher for off-road driving on May 30.
The ground and aerial search was limited by hot weather. The search focused on the Golden Canyon and Badlands Trails, not where he was later found.
A crumpled note inside Kelleher’s vehicle said, “Out of gas”. Kelleher had also mentioned being low on gas when contacted by a park ranger May 30 near Dantes View Road. Park rangers say in extreme heat, people should wait at a broken vehicle, rather than attempting to walk for assistance. Kelleher’s vehicle was parked at one of the park’s most popular viewpoints.
Kelleher’s body was found by park visitors around 2 pm on June 14. Kelleher was about 2 ½ miles from their vehicle, but only about 30 feet from California Highway 190, obscured by terrain and a mesquite tree.
The National Park Service encourages park visitors to stay safe in the summer by not hiking at low elevations after 10 am, staying within a short walk of air conditioning, drinking plenty of water, and eating salty snacks.
The National Park Service, U.S. Navy VX-31 helicopter, Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, and Inyo County Coroner’s Office responded to this incident.
This is the park’s second recent fatality. John McCarry (69), of Long Beach, was found deceased in Panamint Valley on June 1.
A search started on May 23 for Peter Harootunian, whose vehicle was noticed by National Park Service staff abandoned in Emigrant Campground. Harootunian has not been found, and the search has been scaled back to limited and continuous.
Death Valley National Park is the homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone and preserves natural resources, cultural resources, exceptional wilderness, scenery, and learning experiences within the nation’s largest conserved desert landscape and some of the most extreme climate and topographic conditions on the planet. Learn more at www.nps.gov/deva.