Hypothermia Ruled in Death of Upper Lake Fork Woman

Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Office and Hinsdale Search & Rescue aided in search efforts for a missing upper Lake Fork resident whose body was located last Friday afternoon, March 16.
65-year old Laura Claire Gold, affectionately known as “Mama Laura,” lived in a remote frame cabin overlooking Lake San Cristobal which is located on a portion of the Vandalia and Hub mining claims.
Mrs. Gold’s friend, Michael Joseph “Kale” Casey, was absent at the time in Alaska but notified Hinsdale Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, March 14, that he was concerned and had not spoken with her in several days.
A welfare check ensued starting at 8 a.m. Thursday, March 15, comprised of Jerry Gray, Darren Hardy and Wally Hays on snowshoes, each of whom was equipped with avalanche beacons, probes, and shovels. The 1-1/2-mile access road to the Gold-Casey cabin leads off from Silver Coin Gulch, traversing the mountainside in multiple switchbacks and crossing two avalanche chutes.
The men rode snowmobiles as far as a 100-yard wide chute referred to as the “Dirty Avalanche” and crossed another unnamed avalanche chute an estimated 25-yards in width, after which they snowshoed the remainder of the distance to the Gold-Casey cabin.
The team spent several hours carefully searching inside the unlocked and unoccupied cabin, as well as the immediate perimeter outside without finding any trace of the missing woman. According to Dennis Cavit, who was recruited from retirement to serve as Search Coordinator for Hinsdale S & R, a note was found inside the cabin written by Gold stating “Stove pipe broken upstairs bedroom.” On inspection, it was found that snow on the cabin’s roof had dislodged the stovepipe in an upper room.
Gold’s dog, Misty, was found outside the cabin, with indications that the dog had gone repeatedly gone back and forth along the access road between the cabin and the nearest avalanche chute, in the process bedding down at several locations in the fresh snow.
The dog, after being fed and watered, returned down the mountain with the searchers and was later returned to Kale Casey after his return from Alaska.
No other indications of the woman’s whereabouts were discovered and the team returned to Lake City in the midst of deteriorating weather and ongoing avalanche danger.
The search continued the following day, Saturday, March 16, this time composed of Tom Carl, Jerry Gray, Ben Prichett from the Colorado Avalanche Center, and Wolf Creek Ski Patrol member Eric Deitmeyer.
On this second search, team members again covered approximately 2/3 of the distance of the access road by snowmobile, then skied the remaining distance to the Casey cabin.
Deitmeyer was accompanied by his avalanche rescue dog, Summit, which is trained in locating avalanche victims. Summit immediately began following the paths left by Gold’s dog, Misty, paying particular attention to a bedding area on the edge of the access road, a quarter mile from the cabin at elevation 9,968’, where the rescue dog began to dig. After reaching clothing approximately 2’ below the snow, searchers used shovels to exhume Gold’s body.
Hinsdale Coroner Jerry Gray, a member of the search party, pronounced the woman dead at 2:05 p.m., cause of death hypothermia and manner of death accidental.
According to the Coroner, and based on Gold’s smart phone which was found inside the cabin, the last call she made was at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, and she missed a call at 10:30 that evening, indicating she probably left the residence sometime Saturday afternoon.
A recovery team composed of Mike Ralph, Evan Milski, Craig Blakemore, Tom Carl, and Jerry Gray then carried the body to a sled which had been brought up with the snowmobiles.
After returning to Lake City shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, the body was transported to Gunnison by Frank Vader’s Gunnison Funeral Services.
The Casey residence, which is not equipped with electricity and is accessed by the 1-1/2-mile access road from Silver Coin Gulch, is located on a portion of the Vandalia and Hub mining claims. After acquiring the land from Wally Hays, Casey built the 832-square foot frame house in 2013.
“Mama Laura” Gold was born October 15, 1953, and formerly lived in Paonia, Colorado. According to local acquaintances “was loved by everyone.”
In his role as Search & Rescue Search Coordinator, Cavit says he is tremendously impressed by the manner with which local, regional and state entities, year-round and seasonal residents all “came together” during the recent snow emergency.
Cavit says the community was inundated by offers of assistance in the form of lodging, food and funding for the Justin Casey family and others impacted by the emergency. Offers for assistance came from far and wide, according to Cavit, and included staff from both Gunnison and Mineral County sheriff’s departments, and Colorado State Patrol, as well as offers of aid from neighboring city police departments.
As an example of the cooperative spirit, Cavit reports that Hinsdale County Road & Bridge plowed a landing spot in Memorial Park in the event an emergency helicopter evacuation was required. Local veterinarian Linda Downs was put on call in case pets stranded by the avalanche evacuation needed assistance.
Hinsdale Undersheriff Chris Kambish writes a more detailed letter citing gratitude to a long list of those who rendered assistance which is published in the letters section of this week’s edition.