Hiker plunges off rocks, dies
He fell about 30 feet into the canyon below and was hit by a falling boulder
By Sarah Burge
FALLBROOK, Calif. — A hiker was killed Monday afternoon, Jan. 21, in the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve in Temecula when a rocky outcropping that he was sitting on broke away, plunging him about 30 feet into the canyon below, where he was hit by a falling boulder, authorities said.
Riverside County sheriff's officials identified the man as Nicholas Lovato, 23, of Menifee.
"They said they heard a cracking sound and they all kind of looked around … and the boulder just gave way," Lt. Michael Maddux said. "It was just a freak, tragic accident." Novato and four friends had hiked into the reserve, which is closed to the public, from a trailhead off Camino Potro in the hills southwest of the city, sheriff's officials said.
They had walked down into the canyon and hiked about three-quarters of a mile up the north side of the river through rough terrain, Maddux said.
Three of them began to climb what sheriff's officials described as a 200-foot, sheer-face cliff. They had stopped to rest on the outcropping when it gave way.
Novato's friends landed in a rocky area some eight feet below, Maddux said. But Novato plunged about 30 feet into the riverbed and was hit by a falling boulder. "He died instantly," Maddux said.
Maddux said Novato's friends had to run about a half-mile before they could get a cellphone signal to call for help about 3:30 p.m.
Deputies and Cal Fire/Riverside County firefighters met the four friends at the trailhead. After about 30 minutes of hiking, they found Lovato, sheriff's officials said. The boulder did not come to rest on his body, Maddux said.
Rescuers were at the accident scene for hours Monday but - because of the rugged conditions - did not recover Lovato's remains until Tuesday morning, Maddux said. They returned about 8:30 a.m. and used a helicopter to remove the body about 11:30 a.m., he said.
The 4,300-acre wilderness reserve is managed by San Diego State University, which conducts research there. Signs are posted at fenced-off trailheads stating it is closed to the public. But the otherwise pristine canyon is marked with evidence of many unauthorized visitors - spray-painted graffiti.
Maddux said the canyon attracts young people who go there to hike and hang out.
Copyright 2013 The Press Enterprise, Inc.
All Rights Reserved