PORTLAND, Ore. – A cell-phone engineer's tip was not heeded for two days and a hotel refused to give credit-card and cell-phone information to police in the search for a missing California dad who died of hypothermia in the Oregon wilderness while seeking help for his family, according to a newly released police document.
An Edge Wireless engineer tracked the signals from a cell phone and used his technical experience to narrow down the location of the family of CNET Editor James Kim to a specific area. But, the document shows, authorities failed to act on this information for two days.
Further impairing the rescue mission, managers at the Hotel Lucia, where James and Kati Kim stayed Nov. 24 with their two young daughters, declined requests faxed on Nov. 30 on Portland Police Bureau letterhead for information that could have given insight into the family's whereabouts, police said.
Portland Detective Michael Weinstein said he tried to explain the urgency of the request and that he did not have enough time to secure a subpoena. "The Kim family were believed to be in immediate danger," he said.
"To their credit, I could tell the manager truly wanted to help me, but he was ordered not to provide the information,'' Weinstein told the San Francisco Chronicle, which reported the story earlier this month. Click here to read that story.
The downtown Portland hotel's general manager did not return a call Wednesday from The Oregonian newspaper seeking comment.
The Chronicle reported that owner of a lodge on the road where the Kims' car was stuck had told authorities three days before Kati Kim and her daughters were found that he had seen tire tracks in the snow, but he hadn't been able to follow them in his snowmobile once he hit bare ground.
John James, the owner of Black Bar Lodge on the Rogue River, got an e-mail from an employee who had read about the missing family on Friday, Dec. 1. The subject heading read, "Whattaya bet they are up on Bear Camp?''
The Chronicle reported that James had redirected "countless'' motorists over the years who had strayed off of Bear Camp onto the logging road that leads to his lodge. "I just had this feeling that they may be out there somewhere,'' he told the San Francisco newspaper.
He left a message with the area emergency services coordinator, but she didn't call back. He later ran into the cooordinator and a deputy and told her someone needed to check the logging roads thoroughly but "to be honest, they weren't in a listening mode," he told the Chronicle. No one followed up.
The Portland police detective's report also says cell-phone engineer Eric Fuqua told police on Dec. 2 that the Kim family was "most likely in the vicinity of Bear Camp Road."
Weinstein immediately relayed the information to the Oregon State Police, which led the investigation, but no detailed search of the logging roads around Bear Camp Road was begun until Dec. 4.
The Josephine County Sheriff's Office and state police did not order a search of the area with a heat-seeking helicopter that Saturday night or Sunday, even though the Oregon National Guard had one fueled and awaiting orders.
Lt. Gregg Hastings, a state police spokesman, told The Oregonian that official search leaders didn't send up helicopters because they didn't know exactly where to look.
The state police were "aware the map was pointing to Bear Camp Road, but they also thought it could be anywhere within a 26-mile radius," Hastings said. "They didn't understand the map that well."
James Kim's father, Spencer Kim, recently sent an e-mail launching a "private-public sector initiative ... in honor of James L. Kim, my beloved son."
Kim asked friends and associates to help review laws to allow release of credit card and phone records to next of kin in case of emergency.
He also called for the U.S. Forest Service to enforce restrictions on access to logging roads with clear signs, roadblocks and closed gates during the winter. And he urged making it a federal crime to tamper with those signs and gates.
The Kim family left Portland on Nov. 25 on the way home to San Francisco and got stuck in snow after taking a wrong turn in Southern Oregon.
Kati Kim, 30, and daughters Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, were found Dec. 4 by a volunteer pilot on a logging road that forks off Bear Camp. James Kim, 35, who left his family to look for help that Saturday morning, was found dead of hypothermia the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 6.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Fuqua said he and his co-worker, Noah Pugsley, were able to trace a "ping" from the Kims' cell phone when it received text messages. They located not only the cell tower in Glendale, from which the messages were relayed, but a specific area west of the town where the phone received them.
With the family's possible location narrowed down, the pair used computer software to create a map predicting what parts of the mountainous region received any cell phone coverage at all.
Fuqua said he then relied on his experience traveling the forested back roads to guess the course the family may have taken. He guessed quite well.
"Fuqua pointed out that, based on his experience and training, he estimated the Kims' cell phone was most likely in the vicinity of Bear Camp Road," the detective's report stated.
On Sunday, Dec. 3, searchers dispatched a four-wheel-drive truck down logging road 34-8-36. The Kims' Saab station wagon had turned off Bear Camp Road onto this paved spur.
The truck departed at 1:30 p.m. but could not traverse the snowbound road, county documents showed. That night, the volunteers in the truck reported their assignment to check the road was not completed. The Kims' car was later found 21 miles down that road.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.