Online Maps and Directions Blamed for Man’s Death in Snowy Oregon
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James Kim, his wife Katie, and his two daughters, found themselves snowbound and stranded on Bear Camp Road, between Grants Pass and Gold Beach, Oregon, while on their way home to the San Francisco Bay area after spending Thanksgiving in Seattle. Despite being one of the more direct routes between Grants Pass and Gold Beach during nice weather, Bear Camp Road is known for impossibly high snow drifts, impassable snow levels, and dangerous curves along its single-lane stretches. Known for it.

“It’s not a safe route, particularly at this time of year,” said a U.S. Forest Service representative.


When their car became stranded in the snow more than a week ago, James Kim left his family in the car and struck out to find help. His wife and children were rescued yesterday, and the search for Kim continued. His body was found today.

This is a terrible tragedy, to be sure, but what would cause a bright guy like Kim (an editor with CNET news) to take a route known to be so dangerous, particularly with his family?

Some believe that James Kim relied on directions from an online mapping service, and followed them with, probably, no thought as to whether the online directions might not be the best.

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While state highway maps show the Bear Camp Road route to be impassable during the winter, and both Yahoo Maps and MapQuest show other routes as the preferred routes, Google Maps shows the Bear Camp Road route to be the preferred route from Grants Pass to Gold Beach, Oregon (and still does, as of the writing of this article).

While it’s impossible to know whether Kim really did use Google maps, or some other mapping service which may have suggested that fatal route, authorities say that they suspect that is the case, and it seems quite likely, as Kim was a very net-connected, tech savvy person (he covered the technology beat for CNET).

Nearly all of the mapping services add disclaimers to their directions, and Google is no exception. Google’s directions to Gold Beach from Grants Pass via Bear Camp Road include the disclaimer:

 

“These directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results.”

If Kim did rely on directions from Google – and his wife will likely know – the disclaimer may not be enough to ward off a lawsuit for providing directions that proved to be fatal.

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6 thoughts on “Online Maps and Directions Blamed for Man’s Death in Snowy Oregon
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  1. Louise Mercier
    An EPIRB is a GREAT suggestion. I live in snow country and will buy one this week. Even if I have jackets etc, my cell phone may not work. I cannot afford to wait days for someone to find me.

    Anyone who travels on snowy, infrequently traveled roads ought to know better. How difficult is it to put a spare jacket, snacks, flashlight, etc in the car? Especially when one is traveling with young children. My sympathies go out to this family.

  2. I have used on-line map services for driving in my state – ans more often then not – they are incorrect. I feel awful for him and his family. But what I don’t understand is why someone as tech savy as him was NOT using a GPS in his car. I feel sure that he could have afforded one – after all, he was a writer/editor for CNET..surely he could have offered to TEST one for a manufacturer, if nothing else. Here is a suggestion – for anyone else traveling in out of the way places. You can buy an EPIRB (emergency position indication radio beacon) device from any local marine(boating) store – and keep in in your car and activate it in case you get lost. Sailors use these – and commerical aircraft can receive the beacon (transmitted via satellite) and notify authorities and emergency personnel of your position.

  3. oh, please! Can we stop the ridiculous blame-game of trying to absolve people from exercising common sense? Let’s see, I’m driving in the mountains in the winter, and it’s someone else’s fault that I took a back road called “Bear Camp” and got stuck?? Duh. I’m willing to bet that the road also had signs saying ‘tire chains recommended’ and ‘seasonal road’ and all kinds of other indications that — even in the SUMMER — taking this road ain’t the best thing to do unless you know what you’re getting yourself into. I’m really sorry he died, I’m really sorry his wife and kids had to endure their ordeal and that they have to now also cope with his death, but it’s not (insert name of anyone else, be they an online map site or the guy at the gas station where they asked for directions) … it’s not anyone else’s FAULT unless that someone else held a gun to this guy’s head and said he had to take this route and no other route.

  4. Unless Google specifically said, “Take this route and no other no matter what”, then responsibility for using it lies with the driver. From early news reports about what he was wearing (sneakers, jacket), he was woefully ill-prepared for the weather or the driving conditions. Anyone who regularly drives in winter knows that you need supplies in the car. Even if you’re not wearing cold-weather gear to drive, you should have it with you in the car, such as extra socks, good boots, mitts, extra sweater, warm coat, and a hat. A shovel, cellphone (admittedly of limited use in the mountains), food, blankets, etc are also necessary. To set off through the mountains in a blizzard without all of those things is to invite disaster. Doing so is foolish. Google is not responsible for Kim’s death. He is. It is indeed fortunate that his wife and children survived or he would be responsible for their deaths, too.

  5. Kati Kim hasn’t released a public statement yet, so we don’t know what really happened. Trying to point fingers lay blame now is…well, it’s insulting to James.

  6. The most recent C|Net article about the tragedy suggests that they missed their recommended turning, and attempted to take an alternate route instead based on their (paper) maps.

    Still, it really is an awful tragedy. just thinking back to the driving I’ve done in bad conditions on dangerous roads, it turns my stomach thinking about it :(

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