‘Out of gas’ reads final note from man found dead in Death Valley National Park

This file photo shows the landscape of Death Valley National Park in California. Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The body of a man who appeared to be searching for help on foot was found in Death Valley National Park on Tuesday after his car ran out of gas, the National Park Service (NPS) announced.

David Kelleher, 67, was found dead near Zabriskie Point in the national park, considered one of the hottest places in the world during summer. Park authorities said that a heat wave recently swept through the area, causing record temperatures of up to 123 degrees Fahrenheit, or 50 degrees Celsius.

It’s unclear when Kelleher died, but the first sign that the Huntington Beach resident was in trouble came on the morning of June 8, when a park ranger noticed a single vehicle in the parking lot at Zabriskie Point.

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Three days later, on the evening of June 11, the same park ranger noticed the abandoned vehicle again and began an investigation.

A crumpled note was found inside the vehicle, reading “Out of gas.”

The car was registered to Kelleher and park rangers learned that he had not been reported missing. A search of records, though, turned up that Kelleher had been issued an off-road driving citation on May 30.

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When Kelleher spoke to the park official that day, he mentioned he was running low on gas.

A ground and aerial search of the park, aided by a U.S. Navy VX-31 helicopter, was conducted but was “limited by hot weather,” according to the news release. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office and Coroner’s Office also responded to the incident.

Kelleher’s body was found by park visitors Tuesday around 2 p.m., six days after his vehicle was first noticed in the Zabriskie Point parking lot.

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His body was about four kilometres away from his vehicle and only nine metres from California Highway 190, which was “obscured by terrain and a mesquite tree,” according to the NPS.

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In extreme heat, park officials recommend that visitors wait with their vehicles, instead of seeking help on foot, if their car breaks down or runs out of gas. The news release pointed out that Zabriskie Point, where Kelleher’s car was parked, is one of the park’s most popular lookout points.

“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 news release read.

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Kelleher’s death is just one of two recent fatal incidents at the national park. On June 1, John McCarry, 69, was found dead in Panamint Valley.

“In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes,” the NPS said of the park on its official webpage. “Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.”


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