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February 8, 2004

Searchers find missing hiker's body on trail near Bagby Hot Springs

From: Oregonian, OR - Feb 8, 2004


A daylong search for a Monmouth hiker who was deaf and sight-impaired ended late Saturday with the discovery of his remains near a trail to the popular Bagby Hot Springs, according to Clackamas County sheriff's officials.

Richard Thomas Melton, 26, had been missing since Friday night when he and a friend argued and separated while returning from the springs 41 miles southeast of Estacada, sheriff's Sgt. Nick Watt said.

The friend walked ahead to the trailhead parking lot, where she waited two to three hours before seeking help, he said. A witness last saw Melton on the trail about 9 p.m.

Melton's remains were found about 5 p.m. in a snow-covered area about one-quarter mile from the trailhead parking lot, police said. Melton may have died of hypothermia, they said.

Melton was wearing shorts, a T-shirt, a windbreaker and tennis shoes, police said. He did not have food with him and is unfamiliar with the terrain around Bagby.

Detective Jim Strovink, a sheriff's spokesman, said the trail can be treacherous after nightfall.

"It's narrow and slippery, and you have, in some areas, 20- and 30-foot drop-offs," he said.

Melton went to the springs Friday with a friend, Luana Pollock, 25, of Silverton. They arrived about 6 p.m. and left the springs about two hours later, said Watt, search and rescue coordinator for the sheriff's office.

After waiting in the parking lot, Pollock, who is deaf and cannot speak, 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. Deputy James Rhodes found the woman driving along Oregon 224, about six miles west of the Ripple Brook Ranger Station.

Communicating using a pen and notepad, he wrote, "Are you OK?"

"Just cold and hungry," she wrote back. "I am so worried about Thomas."

Her report prompted a full-scale search. By 10:30 a.m. Saturday, two dozen search and rescue volunteers, snowmobilers and specially trained dogs scoured an estimated five square miles around the springs.

In the early afternoon, Oregon National Guard's 1042nd Medical Company dispatched three helicopters to sweep the area.

Police said Melton's hearing and sight impairments complicated searchers' work. They could not, for example, conduct a "sound sweep" using whistles and foghorns.

Thickly wooded terrain around the trail and Saturday's weather posed other challenges. Old-growth forest, thick underbrush and fallen trees surround the trail. About two feet of snow blanketed the area, prompting searchers to wear snowshoes.

Melton, known as Tom, lived with his father, David Melton, and stepmother, Carolyn Melton. Along with Pollock, the Meltons kept vigil through Saturday at the ranger station, where police coordinated the search.

Melton's vision was impaired, according to his family, but with glasses, he was able to see well enough to drive. He communicated using American Sign Language.

Melton and Pollock were longtime friends and former schoolmates at the Oregon School for the Deaf, according to Melton's family. Melton's sister, Angela Kay Melton of Independence said her brother and Pollock went snowboarding Friday, then headed to Bagby Hot Springs to hot-tub.

Staff writer Julie Tripp and researcher Margie Gultry contributed to this report. Noelle Crombie: 503-276-7184;

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