Senator Wants Probe of Bureau of Land Management After Kim Family Tragedy

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Friday called on the Interior Department to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of a San Francisco man stranded with his family in the Oregon mountains.

Feinstein, D-Calif., cited the failure of federal employees to lock a gate on a logging road. Lost in the mountains of Southern Oregon, James Kim, 35, drove his family down the road before getting stuck in the snow.

She commended Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for the search efforts by the Bureau of Land Management for Kim, whose body was found Dec. 6 after he left his family in their snowbound car to find help.

But, she wrote Kempthorne, "I am disturbed by what appears to be a failure to follow instruction and a deviation from agency policy that contributed to cause this incident."

She referred to reports that personnel did not follow instructions to lock a gate on a bureau road. The Kims drove past the gate onto a logging road and got stuck.

Feinstein asked Kempthorne to determine if bureau protocols were followed and whether new ones are needed.

The bureau said earlier that it had ordered the gate locked but that the order was not followed.

Kim's wife, Kati, and their two small daughters stayed with the car and were rescued on Dec. 4. The family disappeared on Nov. 25 on their way home from Seattle, where they had spent Thanksgiving with friends.

Michael Campbell of the bureau's public affairs office in Portland said the agency would investigate the questions raised by Feinstein as well as other questions about the road and the gate.

He said the results would be shared with Feinstein and the public.

Out of respect for the Kim family, he said, the agency would not reply in "dribs and drabs" but would respond to the total issue. He said a response could be ready by the end of the month.

Family spokesman Victor Lim said Friday he had no comment and preferred to keep his opinions private.

Also Friday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski received a chronology of the disappearance of the Kim family and the search. He said he will appoint a task force to review facts and make recommendations.

Kulongoski asked for the report Dec. 22 to outline steps taken by the Office of Emergency Management, the Oregon National Guard and the Oregon State Police.

The governor said the report is the first step toward a broader assessment of search and rescue procedure in Oregon.

After the facts are in, Kulongoski said, he will convene a task force of federal, state, local and private sector representatives to review Oregon's approach to search and rescue efforts.

He said the task force would be appointed after completion of a report by the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association.

Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger, who leads the association's review, said the incoming information has been overwhelming.

"We've had more than a dozen investigators working weekends and nights," Evinger told the Grants Pass Daily Courier.

The chronology given to Kulongoski begins with a Nov. 30 "attempt to locate" message sent by the Portland Police Bureau's missing persons division and ends with a Dec. 7 news briefing by the Oregon State Police.

Kim was a senior editor for the technology media company CNET Networks Inc. Kim's wife and their daughters Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, were rescued as they were leaving their car to find help.

Kati Kim told officers the family missed a turnoff from Interstate 5 to a state highway that would have taken them to Gold Beach, where they had reservations at a luxury resort, so they decided to try a mountain road instead, where they became stuck in the snow.

The bureau initially said the gate had been locked as scheduled Nov. 1 and that the lock had been broken by vandals.

But in mid-December the bureau said there was no evidence the gate had been locked or vandalized.

Jody Weil, director of public affairs for BLM's Oregon office in Portland, said at the time: "What had happened is that our engineer and supervisor had asked his folks to close it and assumed it had gotten done, and it had not gotten locked."