James Kim died of hypothermia, autopsy reveals

CNET senior editor had hiked more than 10 miles in a desperate search to help his family; other details of ordeal are made public.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
4 min read
CNET senior editor James Kim ultimately succumbed to exposure with hypothermia after hiking more than 10 miles through treacherous Oregon wilderness "in an effort to seek help for his family," police said Thursday.

Kim, 35, was found Wednesday lying on his back fully clothed in creek waters 1 to 2 feet deep about a mile from the Rogue River, Lt. Gregg Hastings of the Oregon State Police said at a press conference detailing the Kim family's ordeal.

"There were no injuries to the body that would be incapacitating," Hastings said, citing autopsy results. No information was made available about the time of Kim's death.

With Kim was a backpack containing miscellaneous items including identification, Hastings said.

After more than a week stranded on a snowy and remote road, Kim's 30-year-old wife, Kati, and daughters Penelope (4 years) and Sabine (7 months) were rescued in good condition Monday and have been reunited with family members. Kati Kim suffered frostbite on two toes, but will not lose those toes, according to a close family friend.

Through interviews with Kati Kim, authorities were able to compile a timeline of events leading up to Kim's death.

The family left a Denny's restaurant in Roseburg, Ore., at about 9 p.m. on Saturday, November 25, intending to travel west to their destination of Gold Beach, Ore., via state Highway 42, Hastings said. They missed the interchange, however, and after looking at an Oregon map decided to travel west via Bear Camp Road. The map warns that the road might be closed during the winter.

At about 10:30 p.m., driving in rain and snow, and after noticing signs warning of bad weather conditions, they decided to turn back. James Kim was forced to drive backward, and at one point drove with his door open so he could see behind him, Hastings said. They attempted multiple times to call for help using cell phones, but that area has scant reception, he said.

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The family ended up, probably unintentionally, on a spur road, Hastings said, on which they drove about 15 miles. Around 2 a.m., with concerns about running out of gas, they decided to stop for the night and remain sheltered in the car.

They stayed in the car all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, amid rain and snow, occasionally starting the car for warmth. On Wednesday, they used magazines and wet driftwood to build a fire. The wood was hard to get because it was frozen, Hastings said, so they tried to thaw it and keep it dry by putting it under the car.

On Thursday, the Kims burned the spare tire, and on Friday burned the remainder of their tires for heat and to signal for help. On that day they also heard a helicopter, Hastings said, but didn't know where it was.

As the week progressed, the Kims studied a map and determined that the town of Galice, Ore., was likely about 4 miles away. In reality, Hastings said, it was about 15 miles away.

On Saturday morning, James Kim built a fire for his family and left on foot at about 7:45 a.m. in hopes of reaching a road where he could flag down vehicles for help, Hastings said. He didn't return.

The Kims left their home in San Francisco two weeks ago on a Thanksgiving road trip to the Pacific Northwest. The family was expected to return to San Francisco on November 27. When both James and Kati failed to show up for appointments on November 28, co-workers began to worry for their safety.

After Kati Kim and the girls were rescued Monday, a refocused full-scale search for James Kim involving helicopters, Sno-Cats, four-wheel-drive vehicles, river rafts and searchers on foot went on around the clock.

On Wednesday morning, authorities, still expressing hope that Kim was alive, announced plans to drop care packages strategically along the route where Kim was believed to be. The bundles contained warm clothing and provisions, as well as a personal letter from Kim's family described as a "father's plea to his son" to let Kim know help was on the way.

"James Kim did nothing wrong. He was trying to save his family," Hastings said in response to questions about the course of events. "The Kims did nothing wrong...They were doing what they thought was the best thing for the family."

The Kim family has asked that they not be contacted, and that flowers and donations not be sent at this time. Once the family has decided how they want Kim to be honored, CNET will release details.