Some Psychological/Marital Thoughts on the Last Oregon Tragedy

Yesterday’s investigation by The Oregonian of the Bear Camp Road tragedy two weeks ago is haunting on a couple of levels.

First there’s the family drama. The Oregonian reports that the Kims “drove past signs that said the road was impassable in winter, getting out of the car, Kati Kim later told authorities, to move boulders that blocked their path.” Wow; they were blue-state achievers. Then after coming to a fork in the road and taking the wrong turn—right, on to Logging Road 34-8-36—the Kims traveled “21 miles on the logging road as it corkscrewed into the forest.” Scary.

The greater pity, to me, is: I have to believe that there was tension between the Kim adults as they drove into the forest; that one of the Kims was pushing to continue on and the other was doubtful. That’s what happens in my marriage when we get lost on a back road. One is always for going on (me). The other is always saying, “Let’s turn around.” There’s tension and rage and fuming vindication. Of course, how many of us get punished this way?

The bigger lesson is even scarier: When you’re in a crisis, you can’t trust the authorities.

Yesterday’s Oregonian shows that Josephine County Under Sheriff Brian Anderson didn’t take his (inexperienced) search-and-rescue director’s call on Saturday December 2, because he was watching the Oregon State game on his day off, and that he showed up to an emergency meeting the next morning 45 minutes after everyone else. At that point the family had been marooned in snow more than a week.

Yet (as the newspaper failed to point out) it was that same Brian Anderson who we all watched on TV a few days later, when James Kim’s body was found.

“I’m crushed,” said a grief-stricken Undersheriff Brian Anderson, the Josephine County undersheriff who announced the discovery of James Kim’s body Wednesday, then had to turn away from reporters to regain his composure.

That’s the stuff of a noir movie. The same guy who is crying and turning away from the cameras on national television December 6 can’t be bothered on December 2 ’cause the football game’s on. And meanwhile the authorities are ignoring the tracks someone’s spotted on the logging road, aren’t digging up cell-phone records, and do nothing to summon the heat-seeking helicopters on the ground.

I read this lesson personally. Every time I’ve been in a crisis—a friend’s cancer diagnosis, a mortgage that’s not going through on time—I trust the authorities, I cling to them a little emotionally, in a Stockholm-syndrome kind of way. My wife doesn’t. She assumes a certain degree of incompetence; and believes you have to stay on these people. She’s right, I’m wrong.

I pity anyone in the Kim family who believed the Josephine County authorities when they were assuring them, “We’re doing everything we can…”