Cause of death for Calif. family found near Yosemite narrowed


While the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office has yet to confirm the cause of death, a statement from the agency specify further causes of death that have been substantially excluded “based on recovered evidence or through investigation.”

John Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chung, 30, and their 1-year-old daughter Miju – as well as the Oski family dogs – were found dead Aug. 17 in the Devil’s Gulch area at the fork south of the Merced River in the Sierra National Forest, Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said. Responding agencies treated the scene as a hazmat situation because of uncertainty about the cause of death.

In a statement to the media, the Sheriff’s Office has successfully rejected a myriad of causes that have been the subject of media and speculative investigations: Lightning strikes, carbon monoxide or dioxide poisoning, exposure to cyanide, illegal drugs or alcohol consumption and suicide.


But best of all, they were not ruled out bloom toxic algae. Tests conducted earlier this month confirmed that the nearby Merced River had high levels of toxic algae.

And while Arizona State University professor Taylor Weiss has already told SFGATE that “finding evidence that poisoning will be very difficult,” it has yet to be fully ruled out.

A portion of the Merced River near where the family died was closed earlier this month because of the toxic algae, while the Savage-Lundy Trail reopened Sunday after being closed due “unknown danger.”

They also have yet to rule out extreme heat. The temperature at the time, according to the sheriff’s office, was from 103 to 109 degrees.

A remote canyon area northeast of the city of Mariposa, seen on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, is reported to be the area where a family and dogs were found dead on Tuesday, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said.  Investigators are considering whether toxic algae florx or other hazards may contribute to the deaths of the Northern California couple, their babies and the family dog ​​on a remote hiking trail, authorities said.  (Craig Kohlruss / Fresno Bee via AP)
A remote canyon area northeast of the city of Mariposa, seen on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, is reportedly the area where a family and dogs were found dead on Tuesday, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said. Investigators are considering whether toxic algae florx or other hazards may contribute to the deaths of the Northern California couple, their babies and the family dog ​​on a remote hiking trail, authorities said. (Craig Kohlruss / Fresno Bee via AP)Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press

The latest autopsy data provided by the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office has eliminated chemical hazards on Savage Lundy Trail and acute trauma, such as stab wounds, bullet wounds or blunt-force injuries.

Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kristie Mitchell told SFGATE earlier this month that the results of several toxicology reports are still pending, and as of Wednesday “some key reports” have yet to be found, according to a statement. (A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SFGATE Wednesday.)

It also remains unclear what happened to cell phones and social media files found by investigators.

Detectives and the Sheriff’s Office are continuing to investigate with a team of toxicologists, environmental specialists and the FBI, among others, said in a statement Wednesday. Their death is still being handled as a hazmat and coroner investigation.

“We respect and understand the need for information and details regarding this case. Our priorities now remain to support and inform the Gerrish / Chung family during this tragic time,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in a statement. navigating through this investigation with the family, we will later share our findings with the public. “

SFGATE California Parks editor Ashley Harrell contributed to this report.

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