Authorities from the Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff's Office are investigating a death in Craig at the sandrocks.

Photo by Mary Austin

Authorities from the Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff's Office are investigating a death in Craig at the sandrocks.

Victim found Saturday identified as Craig resident David Burns

Craig Mayor: 'It's time' to look into preventative measures at sandrocks



Authorities from the Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff's Office are investigating a death in Craig at the sandrocks.


Authorities from the Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff's Office are investigating a death in Craig at the sandrocks.


Authorities from the Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff's Office are investigating a death in Craig at the sandrocks.

David Burns memorial notice:

David Burns, of Craig, died Saturday, May 12, 2012. Memorial services will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 16, 2012, at First Congregational Church. Memorial donations may be made to the Moffat County Fuller Center for Housing, Moffat County Humane Society, or First Congregational Church, all in care of Grant Mortuary.

The Craig Police Department has released the identity of an adult male found dead Saturday morning at the base of the sandrocks.

Bill Leonard, police department commander, reported Sunday the victim is longtime Crag resident David Burns.

He was 53.

Preliminary findings indicate Burns fell from the top of the rock formation, but it's too early to confirm the cause of death, Leonard said.

“This could very well be a case where we may never know why he came off the sandrocks,” Leonard said. “It’s clear that he did come off the sandrocks, but we may never know the reason.”

Investigators have not been able to determine the time the fall happened, but Leonard said the investigation is ongoing and an autopsy is scheduled to take place this week in Grand Junction.

Leonard is hopeful information compiled during the autopsy will be able to shed light on what transpired before Burns was discovered Saturday morning.

Police officers responded to the sandrocks near Ninth and Green streets at 8:37 a.m. Saturday, Leonard said, when a local resident discovered the victim’s body and called local authorities.

Police officers were assisted by Moffat County Sheriff's Office deputies.

Gene Bilodeau, a Craig City Council member who lives near the sandrocks, was not at home when authorities arrived on the scene Saturday, but he said it's not the first time a death has been reported at the base of the sandrocks.

“I’ve lived here since about 2002 and this is the third incident in that time,” Bilodeau said.

Three Craig men, ages 28, 31, and 32, were found dead in early June 2007 when their Jeep Cherokee drove off the edge of the sandrocks, plummeting an estimated 125 feet to the base.

About a year later, a 17-year-old Craig man fell approximately 65 feet in what investigators later deemed an accident. Saturday’s incident makes it five people in five years who have died there.

Bilodeau said council members have considered preventative measures at the sandrocks in the past.

“We’ve talked about putting fencing up at the top of the sandrocks, but the reality is people who want to scale the fence will find a way to scale that fence,” he said. “The city council has been approached by the people who live there to quarantine that off so people can’t drive up there, but people would still be able to use the paths.”

Bilodeau said Dave Pike, Craig parks and recreation director, looked into options and costs to block vehicle traffic at the sandrocks following the 2008 incident.

But, city officials decided not to take action at that time.

However, things may be different now.

“It’s time,” Craig Mayor Terry Carwile said Saturday. “I’m not sure when it will be a discussion item on city council’s agenda, but sometime soon.”

Carwile doesn’t know what the appropriate answer to Saturday’s death would be, but said some options could include conducting trail work to define hiking paths better, displaying signs near the edge of the sandrocks, and potentially barring access to street vehicles.

“I know Pike has a list of trails he wants to work on this summer,” Carwile said. “We may have to talk about putting those on hold for a while and push this one to the top of the list.”

Byron Willems, also a Craig City Council member, said restricting access to the sandrocks is not what Burns would want.

Standing on top of the rock formation Saturday afternoon, Willems spoke about his friend.

Originally from Texas, Burns moved to Craig when he was in the eighth grade, Willems said.

They became fast friends while attending Moffat County High School together in the 1970s and have been close ever since.

In those days, Willems and Burns frequented the sandrocks as often as possible.

Burns continued to visit the summit regularly throughout his life, Willems said.

“This was home for him. He loved it up here and he never planned on leaving,” Willems said. “It’s funny because he would always refer to this as his valley.”

Burns was the only son in a family with four sisters and was raised for the majority of his life by his single mother, Willems said.

He was smart, a natural athlete and never backed down from a challenge.

“He didn’t operate in a high gear, if you know what I mean, but he was always working on a project,” Willems said. “He would tackle anything, and things I would never dream of doing for fear of screwing it up, like plumbing.

“He has a cabin and did all of the plumbing himself. That’s the kind of guy he was. He wasn’t afraid of doing anything like that.”

Frank and Connie Archuleta, who also live near the sandrocks, struggle to find an answer for what they see as a string of preventable tragedies in the area.

“I could agree with closing it off to big trucks, but I don’t know if it should be restricted completely,” Frank said. “So many people use it, but at the same time, who wants to wake up to something like that?”

Connie called the death “sickening” and “really tough in a small town like this.”

But, Connie believes the sandrocks are also one of the most beautiful parts of Craig.

“Just last week we watched some men rappel from the top and it is so cool to watch people do things like that,” Connie said. “And almost every day last year a girl would go up there to sing. I think she liked it because of the echo.

“You never knew exactly where she was, but you got the feeling that her voice carried clear across the valley.”

Willems said Burns would echo Connie’s comments, and he hopes the death of his friend doesn’t spark another debate about access to the sandrocks.

Similarly, Leonard has asked residents to take a step back and reflect on the more important issue at hand.

“I hope, first and foremost, that people respect the fact that members of our community have lost a family member or a friend,” Leonard said. “I hope we remember that before we draw this into a political debate about the sandrocks.”

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David Moore 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree with the Archuleta's 100%, that chunk of rock is what defines this town and has become a welcome sight when returning from places afar, I always know I am home when I lay eyes upon it. It is one heck of a trail to ride and hike and I have been climbing them since a young child, I now take my own young child up there to enjoy them as I did at her age. I believe the only thing you can do is educate, sign it up and if you need to fence something off, fence it off to motorized vehicles, all they do is tear it up anyway....and this is coming from someone who likes to drive the two tracks themselves. Please, City Council, do not bar the public from this natural landscape that is truly an icon of Craig, it is a great place to go and get a lay of the land, watch fireworks and hear them thunder down the valley and just pass an afternoon in somewhat of a solitude type place, away and above the hustle and bustle. As tragic as it is that some have died falling off the edge, it would be just as tragic closing it up ,too many people love being there...besides, human nature won't allow that to happen.


Tammy Showalter 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree with David...what has happened is tragic...but then again so are car we ban driving? It is time for common sense to prevail.


WrestlinRockies 4 years, 11 months ago

Fence it...Bolt Routes on the face and turn it into a rock climbing park.

It would be regulated. You could charge fees (I would pay every day and know many more who would and many others who would travel here to do so). It would be a huge attraction to the area.

I will even volunteer to do most all the work for free! it would be a great idea.


hwwellmandvm 4 years, 11 months ago

"The Sandrocks" are part of Craig's identity. Nearly every child who grows up in Craig will have some fond memory at/on/near this landmark. Restricting use or condemning the use of this landmark would be a shame....building walkways, view points with benches, and providing a rock climbing area would be a better alternative (much like the Cathy Ceasar sled hill) in my opinion. I believe David would also support this, and it would be a nice tribute to someone who loved Craig like David did.


native_craig_guy 4 years, 11 months ago

Fact of the matter is that even a dim witted attorney could bring a successful lawsuit against The City of Craig for negligence in controlling a dangerous "attractive nuisance". Simply bolting up climbing lines is not going to reduce their liability everytime someone wants to commit suicide or climb foolishly on the rocks. They need to take steps to ensure the safety of those who are on the Sandrocks, legally or not.


David Moore 4 years, 11 months ago

I am truly sorry that some have met their demise by falling from the rocks, however closing it down completely is not the solution. I find it odd that we as 12 year olds back in the 70's knew of the danger playing and climbing on them, why is it such an issue now? Closing it off to vehicles and their destructive and dangerous nature is a start to the solution. Of the 5 deaths in the following years, 3 of them were in a vehicle....perhaps had it been closed to vehicular traffic then, there would only be 2 deaths. If that were the case, we would not be here debating the fate of an iconic landmark of our community or the unfortunate deaths of a few who momentarily lost their focus. Put up a fence, it will be torn down....put up a sign, and bullet holes will be shot through it, it's the nature of those who live here and it would be a waste of money all the way around. Again, common sense says STAY AWAY FROM THE EDGE, its a long way down and you are unlikely to walk away from a fall. Not that hard to understand.


Rebelgirl 4 years, 11 months ago

The truth of the matter is times are different now than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Yes accidents happen. The population also wasn't as big in the past as it is now. With increased population brings increased suicides, and accidents. Like many others have stated you will not stop someone from taking their own life nor will you stop them from doing risky things such as climbing the face of the rocks. How is this different than people floating the river, it can be just as dangerous as much of these people are also drinking as they float. We are lucky enough not to have more accidents in the river. People will do what they want when they want reguardless of what you put in front of them. Build the fence they will scale it or tear it down with the intent of hurting them self or just because they can due to no respect for boundries. Signs will do little to nothing other than offer a place to display graffiti. How can the city be accoutable? Do people sue the Federal Government when their loved one takes their life by jumping off a cliff? Its no ones responsiblity to ensure the safety of every single citizen, it can not be done. Common sense is a fleeting thing and you can only hold someones hand or treat them like kids for so long. Accidents happen, and people take their own life. Honor those who have lost their life(s) and use this as a time to reteach the importance of what life you have.


David Moore 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, while I agree with a lot of what rebelgirl says, I am not going to express any sympathy for those who lack the simple notion of common sense. Those rocks have been there for a millennium and nothing as far as using them has changed...nothing. The danger is the same now as it was when I was 9 climbing the "witches crack" to the top. Anyone remember the big "72" painted on the tallest part? I do and I remember the day after it was painted. Imagine for one second the risk involved in getting that up there, and no one died doing it from what I recall. I ride that rim trail at speeds most would never fathom, I take the risk, and I accept it, but my common sense tells me every inch I cover that all can go awry any second, and I can easily plunge to my demise. The risk is part of being up there, part of enjoying the beauty and part of many of our lives. We need to stop being such nanny's, making all the bad boogeymen go away, and just live life...accept the risk of breathing air and do what is right. People have drown in the river, is it closed to the People have died in aircraft crashes, are the airports closed to their These deaths are a tragic consequence of a momentary, or substance related, lapse in judgement, a loss of focus and in the instance of the three gentlemen who drove over the edge, a loss of bearing and placement upon this earth. I will NEVER support shutting it down and this will be one meeting, if it ever comes about, that I will attend to voice my opposition.


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