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February 9, 2004

Hiker's friend says call for help wasn't heard

From: Salem Statesman Journal, OR - Feb 9, 2004

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — The friend of a hiker who died after wandering off a trail at Bagby Hot Springs said her efforts to find help were thwarted because she is deaf and people couldn't understand her.

Luana Pollock, 25, of Silverton, speaking through her mother Sunday, said she and Richard Thomas Melton, 26, of Monmouth became separated because it was dark. For most of the hike back to the car, Pollock said Melton, who was deaf and sight-impaired, had been in front of her, flicking his lighter so she could see him.

Pollock passed some hikers on the trail and tried to ask them for help, but she said they couldn't understand her. A witness later reported seeing Melton on the trail about 9 p.m. Friday.

"Her speech isn't good, and they just thought she was a weirdo and shrugged her off," said Pollock's mother, Sherry Pollock of Silverton. "If someone would have taken the time to listen to her, they would have known they were in trouble."

Once she arrived at the trailhead parking lot, Pollock said she stopped at an RV, where a man let her warm up. She asked him for a flashlight, but he didn't have one, so she returned to the trail with a lighter and tried to find Melton.

Pollock said she also tried to get the attention of others in the parking lot, to no avail. She flagged down a motorist shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday and wrote a note about Melton. The motorist called police, who met Pollock about 45 minutes later.

Her report prompted a full-scale search. Melton's body was found Saturday afternoon, about 200 yards off the trail to the popular Bagby Hot Springs, which is 41 miles southeast of Estacada. Clackamas County sheriff's officials said Melton probably died of hypothermia.

Detective Jim Strovink, a Clackamas County sheriff's spokesman, said police think Melton may have suffered from hypothermic delusions and wandered off the trail.

Melton and Pollock were friends since their days together at the Oregon School for the Deaf in Salem. The pair graduated together in 1997, the year they were crowned prom king and queen.

Pollock described their relationship as "good friends, like brother and sister." Pollock said Melton had been feeling down lately, and she thought snowboarding and hot tubbing would cheer him up.

Melton was unemployed, said his aunt, Louise Melton-Breen. After graduating from high school, Melton briefly attended Chemeketa Community College in Salem. Later, Melton-Breen said, her nephew worked for a time with developmentally disabled people in private group homes, a job he loved. Lately, she said, he was "searching for himself," and "caught up in this awful job market."

Copyright 2004 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon