Victim found Saturday identified as Craig resident David Burns |

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.
Mary Austin

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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