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March 24, 2006

PUBLIC EVACUATED

California man shoots himself in Death Valley

INYO COUNTY CORONER SAYS SUICIDE LETTER WAS ONE OF THE SADDEST HE EVER READ

By ROBIN FLINCHUM
SPECIAL TO THE PVT


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Fifty-seven-year-old Charles Crippen of Red Bluff, Calif., checked out of the Rose Garden Inn in Ridgecrest, Calif., last Saturday morning and thanked the manager for a restful two-day stay. Then he made his way to Death Valley National Park, to a remote dirt road through an area known as Titus Canyon and there, despite the best attempts of officers detailed to head him off and talk him out of it, Crippen shot himself some time after sundown.

Prior to the confirmation that he had committed suicide, some 20 park visitors were evacuated from the Titus Canyon parking lot and the area was closed off for about 24 hours over the weekend, while a small deployment of National Park Service rangers and officers from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office and California Highway Patrol waited to see whether Crippen would come down from a bluff overlooking the canyon.

Most likely Crippen, a retired marketing consultant who had been reported missing from his home on Feb. 6, had simply intended to disappear into the canyon unobserved. He had been depressed for some time, said Inyo County Coroner Robert Franke, and had made attempts on his own life before.

But around 11 a.m. on Saturday, when the housekeeping staff at the Rose Garden Inn went to empty the trash in his room, a maid noticed a piece of paper in the basket with the words "last will and testament" written across it. She extracted several neatly folded papers and looked them over.

"There was a letter to a bank, letters to friends, and rough drafts of a suicide letter," said the Rose Garden's manager Horace Blevins. "It worried her so she brought it to me and we called the police."

The Kern County police turned the call over to the Inyo County Sheriff's Office, who notified the National Park Service in Death Valley. By about 3 p.m. rangers and deputies arrived at Titus Canyon and saw Crippen in the parking lot along with some 20 other visitors. He was armed with a .22 pistol. While the visitors were evacuated, Crippen made his way up onto a bluff overlooking the hiking trail below.

Officers attempted to talk Crippen down using the public address system on a patrol car, but he only responded by waving his hands at them to go away, said Marston Mottweiler of the Inyo County Sheriff's Office.

National Park Service rangers were stationed in the parking area overnight but had no further contact with Crippen and heard no shots fired. In the morning, a California Highway Patrol helicopter flew over the scene and observed Crippen's body at about 10:30 a.m. He had shot himself in the head with the pistol.

Coroner Franke said he could not disclose the details of Crippen's suicide letter, but said it was one of the saddest he had ever read, "and I've read a lot."

Horace Blevins said he would never have guessed from Crippen's outward demeanor that something was bothering him. "He was a nice man," He said. "I wish they could have gotten to him sooner."

Park service rangers evacuated Crippen's body and Titus Canyon was reopened Sunday afternoon.










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