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Crime AR - Jeffrey Johnson, guide, convicted for leading 31 hikers on fatal trip in Buffalo National River in May 2022

Rainforest

Laidback
I'm in awe....



A hiking guide from Bentonville, Arizona [sic], has been found guilty of two misdemeanors after leading a large group of walkers along an unsafe trail, which resulted in one man falling to his death. It was determined in court that he had led the group, and charged for his services.

Jeffrey Johnson led 31 hikers along Indian Creek Trail in the Buffalo National River park in May this year. He told investigators that he advertised the hike on Facebook, and although he usually restricted groups to no more than 15 people, the site wouldn't let him limit the number of people able to sign up.

Johnson's chosen route isn't an official park trail. According to park ranger Daniel Romes, who worked at Buffalo River over the summer, it's very challenging, with narrow areas, sheer drops, and a rope climb to tackle.
"You shimmy along a shelf and you squeeze through a hole to get there," Romes testified during the trial at Federal Court in Harrison. He explained that one point on the route skirts around a 50ft drop, and said he had asked Johnson to stop leading groups in the area.
During the Indian Creek hike, at least two people decided to turn back as the route grew increasingly challenging, which Johnson didn't notice. One of those who doubled back – 46-year-old Brad Lee Thomas from Springfield, Missouri – fell from the trail after separating from the main group.
 
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I Am A Rock

For Real
I usually want to go to every single one of the places we have here on STW, but this one scares me. I can see where it would be very appealing—it's so photogenic—but oh, what a disaster for a small group, let alone 31 people at once with a FB "guide" with obviously no leader experience. He didn't keep track of his group, for gosh sake.

Here's a more detailed source for what happened:

 

I Am A Rock

For Real
See what the ranger says in that article:

Daniel Romes, a park ranger who worked at the Buffalo National River in May, described the Indian Creek Trail hike as very difficult, with narrow trails along a bluff and a rope climb along the way.
"You shimmy along a shelf and you squeeze through a hole to get there," he testified.
At one point along the hike, there's a 50-foot drop, he said.
Romes said a woman suffered a leg injury on May 1 while hiking with another group led by Johnson in the same area.
"I told him to please stop hiking in that area," testified Romes.
When he learned that another hike along Indian Creek was planned for May 7, Romes said he went to the area where hikers were to meet, but didn't find them.
"I went there to stop the hike from happening," he said.
Late that afternoon, Romes learned that a hiker was injured along the Indian Creek Trail.
He went there and saw first responders working on Thomas.
"He had fallen from a rock ledge approximately 15 or 20 feet high into a pool [of water along Indian Creek]," said Romes.
He said 47 people assisted with the search and rescue effort.
 

Cabin Fever

Laidback
See what the ranger says in that article:

Daniel Romes, a park ranger who worked at the Buffalo National River in May, described the Indian Creek Trail hike as very difficult, with narrow trails along a bluff and a rope climb along the way.
"You shimmy along a shelf and you squeeze through a hole to get there," he testified.
At one point along the hike, there's a 50-foot drop, he said.
Romes said a woman suffered a leg injury on May 1 while hiking with another group led by Johnson in the same area.
"I told him to please stop hiking in that area," testified Romes.
When he learned that another hike along Indian Creek was planned for May 7, Romes said he went to the area where hikers were to meet, but didn't find them.
"I went there to stop the hike from happening," he said.
Late that afternoon, Romes learned that a hiker was injured along the Indian Creek Trail.
He went there and saw first responders working on Thomas.
"He had fallen from a rock ledge approximately 15 or 20 feet high into a pool [of water along Indian Creek]," said Romes.
He said 47 people assisted with the search and rescue effort.
He did the same thing the week before, had been told by a ranger not to do it, and there was an accident then, too?
This was a FB group. It figures. AdventureSmart recently cautioned about going on hikes with FB groups because you don’t know what you’re getting into. They had a specific example of very poor leadership skills, where the hallmark was leaving a hiker behind. In that case, it was explicit: the leader discussed it with the hiker and they mutually agreed to separate. (It didn’t work out, though.) In this case, JJ didn’t stop periodically to count his group, so there was no excuse for not knowing that hikers had turned back.

 

Cliffed Out

Diggin' It
Now we have the DOJ write-up. I hope he gets jail time. This is nuts. Over 7 years?

JJ also assembled groups on Meetup. It's so scary that people are out there doing this. I'll bet he's not the only one.

Testimony and evidence presented showed that Johnson created and operated an outdoor adventure group known as Arkansas Nature Lovers and hosted a site on Meetup.com as well as regularly posting and operating on Facebook. Johnson advertised membership to his group, which included attendance at as many of his hikes as the member wished, for a $20 annual fee, payable through Paypal, check, or cash at the first event attended. Johnson admitted to Rangers that he had led multiple hikes within the Buffalo National River over an approximate seven-year period. Testimony revealed that Johnson never applied for or received a permit to engage in business within the park or to solicit money within the park. Sentencing in this matter is scheduled for March 7, 2023.

 

Cabin Fever

Laidback
My soap box:

I usually recommend that novice hikers learn hiking skills in an organized, long-standing, group, such as those offered by local mountaineering clubs or established nonprofits like Outdoor Afro, Sierra Club, AMC, GMC, Road Scholar, Hiking While Black.... There are private companies that offer guide services, but IMO, it's easier to learn A LOT more hiking with a group who've been doing it a while, especially in the area of risk management. IMO this is because you will hear abundant stories of "what went wrong" and the decisions made to overcome them. You will begin to accumulate a nice little pile of decision-possibilities for later wilderness trips.
 

Rainforest

Laidback
My soap box:

I usually recommend that novice hikers learn hiking skills in an organized, long-standing, group, such as those offered by local mountaineering clubs or established nonprofits like Outdoor Afro, Sierra Club, AMC, GMC, Road Scholar, Hiking While Black.... There are private companies that offer guide services, but IMO, it's easier to learn A LOT more hiking with a group who've been doing it a while, especially in the area of risk management. IMO this is because you will hear abundant stories of "what went wrong" and the decisions made to overcome them. You will begin to accumulate a nice little pile of decision-possibilities for later wilderness trips.
Great advice. Without input from others outside their immediate circle, IMO novice hikers get stuck in echo chambers in their own heads, with a partner they got into this with (equally uninformed), or chatrooms with unknowns egging each other on. You need people to bring up situations you hadn’t even thought about.

It seems like right now we have an epidemic of fatalities exactly in this vein. Laura Macke and Emily Sotelo spring to mind. And now this case.
 

Rainforest

Laidback
Back to the recent case of a missing hiker, also in Buffalo National River…. In case anyone wants to look it up.

 

Naughty Pine

Hangin' Out
Where can I even begin with the nonsense spouted by supporters of JJ? Some examples:
1. JJ wasn’t making any money. Do the math: just the 31 people on the hike netted him $620 per year. His costs for a Meetup subscription were about $150 per year, nothing if he used FB, which he did in this instance.
2. JJ wasn’t making any money, just taking people to places he really enjoyed, so they could enjoy them, too. Trouble is, the Ranger told him to stop just the week before.
3. JJ couldn’t help it that 31 people showed up for this trip, although he usually only takes 15. He advertised on FB this time, so he couldn’t limit the group size, Well, doh, he could have sent some home? And, er, it was his choice to advertise on FB.
4. He didn’t know the guy who died had turned back. It was his obligation to keep track of people he took upon himself the lead, by doing count-offs periodically. Also, where was the sweep?
I’m surprised JJ wasn’t charged with negligence for causing the death. There was nothing about this trip that was authorized or reflected any kind of leadership ability, risk assessment, experience. But this media source seems to think there’s a “hiking community” that is puzzled about it all.
I hope the judge orders a clawback of all the fees, but JJ will probably just get a slap on the wrist.

Source:

 

Chill

For Real
I’m surprised JJ wasn’t charged with negligence for causing the death. There was nothing about this trip that was authorized or reflected any kind of leadership ability, risk assessment, experience.
SFF

I'll bet JJ didn't have liability insurance or the Park might have prohibited him from requiring folks to sign a liability release (i.e. even if he had a permit). I can't imagine he isn't going to get sued, especially now that he's been convicted. There's the death, the woman who was with the person who died, good samaritans who helped, and anyone of the 29 others who were in the group. Rangers had told JJ prior to stay away from that area; this would make him VERY liable for what happened. But I'm not a lawyer.

Also, conviction and fining has happened before for guiding without a permit. IIRC FB was the advertising medium in that case as well. Very similar. In GCNP.

 

One Fat Marmot

Diggin' It
The USFS goes after people, too. This one's near Sedona.

And here's a handy list of why guiding without a permit is not allowed:

By ignoring federal regulations, illegal guides have a number of negative impacts, including:
• developing and/or contributing to unplanned trails leading to sensitive areas;
• causing and increasing resource damage to sensitive soils and animal/plant species;
• exceeding road and trail capacity limits;
• impeding on the experiences of responsibly-recreating public;
• and avoiding Forest Service fees that fund resource stewardship.


All of these would apply to JJ's case. Imagine all those 31 people needing to pee at least once on a hike that far, proximate to the waterway. Contamination, big time.

 
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