December 8, 2006 5:20 PM PST

Lock cut on gate that would have blocked Kims' access to road

CNET senior editor James Kim and his family wouldn't have ended up on the remote forest road where their car got stuck if it weren't for the act of an unknown vandal who cut the lock on a gate blocking the entrance, authorities said Friday.

The gate on the access road in the southern Oregon wilderness had been locked during the first week of November, which marked the end of the deer hunting season and the beginning of the Christmas tree cutting season, said Patty Burel, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Land Management's Medford, Ore., district, the agency in charge of the road.

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But, by the time authorities started looking in the vicinity for the Kim family--who had been stranded for more than a week 15 miles in on the snow-covered access road--the lock had been cut and the gate was open, Burel said.

"Vandalism has been a large problem for us. It continues to be," she said, adding that the gate is checked every three weeks or so.

James Kim, 35, his wife Kati, 30, and daughters Penelope (4 years) and Sabine (7 months), were traveling Saturday, November 25 from Portland, Ore., on their way to Gold Beach, Ore. They initially intended to drive via state Highway 42, but after missing the turnoff, decided to head west from Grants Pass on Bear Camp Road, which often closes during the winter months, police have said.

The road is difficult to navigate, Burel said, and people often get confused, like the Kims did, where it forks. It's not uncommon for drivers to turn downhill, toward the right, on a spur road, thinking it's Bear Camp Road, she said. Bear Camp Road, to the left, goes up hill.

"It happens in the spring and summer. People are inclined to take it downhill," Burel said.

The gate is located about 150 feet past the entrance to the spur road, technically called BLM 34-8-36, and known to locals as the Galice access road.

Kati Kim and the two girls were found alive and well on Monday, nine days after the family was first stranded. James Kim, however, after hiking more than 10 miles through treacherous land in search of help for his family, succumbed to exposure and hypothermia.

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