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County Agrees to $25K Settlement in Case Involving the 2017 Death of John Thornton Jenkins

— May 6, 2019

Clackamas County recently agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of John Thornton Jenkins, a climber who fell from Mount Hood and died.

A $25,000 lawsuit settlement was recently agreed to over a case involving the 2017 death of a 32-year-old climber. The suit was filed against Clackamas County by the family of the climber, John Thornton Jenkins, and argued that after he fell “hundreds of feet down Mount Hood, he had to wait “hours for a helicopter rescue.”

The Clackamas County Courthouse in Oregon City
The Clackamas County Courthouse in Oregon City; image courtesy of Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives via Wikimedia Commons,

According to the suit, the family argued the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and Clackamas County 911 made a series of missteps that “contributed to a more than four-hour wait before Jenkins was rescued off the mountain.”

Not everyone was on board with the settlement, though. In fact, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said he didn’t want the county to settle, “even if it was for a nominal sum to avoid the costs of litigation.” Though he offered his condolences to the family, he added:

“Death is an inherent risk any climber takes, especially in an environment as dangerous as Mt. Hood. I was surprised and deeply disappointed to be sued by the deceased’s family after our search and rescue teams made every effort to save Mr. Jenkins’ life. Tragedy can happen without fault…The settlement sets a troubling precedent for all Sheriff’s Offices required by law to conduct search-and-rescue operations in their counties.”

The county also offered the Jenkins’ family condolences and Tim Heider, a spokesman for the family, said, “this was a tragic accident and a reminder of the dangers of climbing Mount Hood or any of our iconic Cascade peaks.”

What happened, though? Well, according to the lawsuit, Jenkins fell about “600 feet from the area near the mountain’s summit at about 10:40 a.m. on May 7, 2017.” Eight minutes after his tumble, another climber found him and called 911 for assistance, “but an Oregon Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter didn’t arrive until 3:11 p.m.” Unfortunately, when rescuers were attempting to secure him to a “basket to lift him off the mountain, he stopped breathing, lost his pulse and ultimately was pronounced dead at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland,” according to the suit.

The suit argues an alleged “bungled response to repeated calls for help” contributed to Jenkins’ death. For example, the family claims that when the climber who found Jenkins first called 911, he was transferred to the “Sheriff’s Office, which told the caller to contact Timberline’s ski patrol,” even after the climber told the dispatcher that the incident occurred outside the ski zone and Jenkins wasn’t a skier.

From there, the ski zone contacted the county’s 911 center, which then “transferred the call to the sheriff’s office.” In the end, it took one hour and 40 minutes after the first 911 call was made for someone to finally request a helicopter. Two hours and 40 minutes later, it finally arrived, but it was too late.

In addition to paying $25,000, the county will also donate $5,000 to Portland Mountain Rescue, “a volunteer nonprofit search-and-rescue organization that responded to Jenkins’ fall.” Additionally, the county will also increase “training and refined communication procedures for the county’s emergency responders.”

When commenting on the settlement, Jane Paulson, the Portland attorney representing Jenkins’ estate, said:

“This case has never been about money for the family. Now that the county has agreed to make the necessary changes regarding how search and rescue operations are conducted, the family’s goal of making Mt. Hood safer for others is complete and is the best method for the family to honor the memory of their son.”


Family of dead Mount Hood climber settles lawsuit over delayed helicopter rescue for $25,000

Oregon climber’s family settles case claiming delayed rescue

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