Please note: If you are reading this post from an outside link, please also read the addendum to this post as well, Thanks.
James Kim made a number of wrong decisions that led to his death. Calling his actions heroic, and failing to point out the very serious mistakes he made, does a disservice to every person who reads about this tragedy. And now that this “accident” is being blamed on an unknown vandal who opened a locked gate, all blame is taken away from the one person it belongs to, James Kim.
What he did wrong
First, NEVER drive in the snow without taking along an adequate supply of food and enough blankets or sleeping bags to survive sub-zero weather. This is not optional. If you drive in the snow, even just on major highways, you MUST have these things. If you don’t have them, you’ve already done something WRONG.
Second, he bypassed signs warning him that the road wasn’t plowed in the winter, something that should have been obvious even without the signs given the condition of the road. Just because a road is on a map, doesn’t mean you can or should drive on it.
Third, there is something known as a point-of-no-return that is used to determine when you should stop. For the Kims, that point would have been the moment they realized their fuel supply was running low. If turning around is impossible because of the road conditions, then back up. Even if you have to drive in reverse for miles, it’s better than running out of fuel in the woods.
Fourth, it’s bad form to enter an environment you are ignorant of. James Kim suffered hypothermia, a condition he would have been able to recognize had he know about the symptoms and the cause. To not have read up about this before travelling to snow country is inexcusable. There was nothing wrong with his decision to seek help. But he went outside with inadequate preparation. He had no warm clothes (the foam from the seat upholstery would have made excellent insulation) and no idea about what the environment was capable of doing to him.
The point is, James Kim certainly did many things wrong. People need to realize that in spite of all the safety nets we spread around in this country, you need to be prepared for the environment. This was not a freak accident. It was avoidable. The situation began, as most accidents do, with a series of small mistakes that accumulate into a disaster. The only way to prevent such accumulation is to recognize where each problem will lead and to make sure that you don’t venture off without adequate preparation. Ask yourself what you would do if your car broke down.
And finally, to say that this was caused by the person who left the road gate open is plain irresponsible. James Kim is responsible for his death because he made the mistakes that led to it. He exceeded the capacity of both his vehicle and his knowledge and he was given ample warning at many point along the way.