PRESCOTT - Sheriff's deputies and the Search and Rescue team saw one call for help morph into four rescues this past week.
On Thursday, Feb. 4, at around 4:30 p.m., an Oregon man called to report that a California man was stuck in deep snow on Senator Highway (Forest Road 52) north of Palace Station - approximately 17 miles south of Prescott.
The California man was in a Cadillac Escalade and had seven dogs with him but no working cell phone. Sometime later, the caller told Yavapai County Sheriff's dispatchers that he and his girlfriend were now stuck in the snow. Using the caller's cell phone location from the 911 call, a deputy started down Senator Highway with the limited information and intermittent cell phone contact. When the deputy's progress was halted by the snow about 1.5 miles from the stranded subjects, the Yavapai County Search and Rescue Team (YCSRT) 4x4 Unit was called out.
The 4x4 Unit was about 1 mile from the two stranded vehicles when two other men were discovered stuck near the top of a hill at Senator Highway and Poland Road. They had been stranded for hours after attempting a drive to Crown King. With help from 4x4 Unit personnel, their vehicle was dug out of the snow allowing them to return home.
As the 4x4 Unit continued south on Senator Highway, they made it to within less than a mile of the original group, but were unable to get any closer. Dispatchers contacted the Oregon man and learned the group chose to stay put until the next day. They had sufficient food and water and were able to start a warming fire, enabling an overnight stay even with temperatures in the teens.
While driving out of the area, pending a second rescue attempt the following day, the YCSRT 4x4 Unit came upon another stranded motorist. The motorist, a college student, spun out on Senator Highway after rounding a corner too fast and struck a snow bank at the edge of a 60-foot drop off. With one of the truck's tires hanging off the side, he was unable to move the vehicle safely. Several friends were called but their vehicles were not equipped to handle the conditions. Eventually a tow truck responded from Prescott and pulled the student out while YCSRT members remained on scene to assist as needed.
The next morning, Feb. 5, the YCSRT Quad Unit eventually reached the Oregon couple and California man. After a quick assessment, they found that the Oregon couple's vehicle, a Toyota 4 Runner, could be freed from the snow/mud allowing the couple to drive away. The stranded California man driving the Escalade was loaded up, along with his seven dogs, in rescue vehicles for transportation back to Prescott. The Escalade was not drivable as the rear tires were shredded and off the rims. The vehicle was scheduled for tow at a later date.
Lesson: It is well publicized that this portion of Senator Highway can be very treacherous and in many cases, unpassable, in deep snow conditions. Planning ahead and doing detailed research could have prevented these incidents if the warnings were known. And some vehicles, no matter how well equipped and driven, are simply not able to overcome such obstacles.
Over the past several months, YCSRT, Southern YCSRT, Verde Search and Rescue and Jeep Posse members/volunteers have been involved in numerous rescues throughout Yavapai County. These volunteers often risk their lives for complete strangers. Sheriff Mascher and the Forest Patrol deputies who oversee these rescues remain extremely grateful for their dedication and service.