Eric Marsh had no cell phone communications in hours before deployment, his widow says

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(Story updated at 9:05 a.m., Dec. 21, 2015 to include Amanda Marsh’s statement that Eric Marsh only carried one cell phone.)

By John Dougherty

Granite Mountain Hotshot superintendent Eric Marsh did not make or receive any cell phone calls in the three hours leading up to the burn over that claimed his life along with 18 other members of his crew during the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013, his wife Amanda Marsh said Saturday.

The question of whether Marsh was in cell phone communication with fire commanders in the hours leading up to the tragedy has lingered for more than two years after two state investigations failed to examine his cell phone records.

“There was nothing after 1:11 p.m.,” Amanda Marsh said. “That call was with Todd Abel.”  Abel was a senior commander directing fire suppression operations.

Abel has told investigators he had a cell phone discussion with Marsh at that time to discuss a disagreement Marsh had with another fire commander.

But the call was about three hours before Granite Mountain moved from a safe zone on a ridge in the Weaver Mountains west of Yarnell and descended into a box canyon where the crew was trapped by flames at about 4:40 p.m.

Amanda Marsh contacted InvestigativeMEDIA Saturday evening, three days after it was reported her husband’s phone arrived with his body to the Office of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner on July 1 but was not later included as evidence collected by the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

The YCSO collected other cell phones that arrived with the bodies of hotshots and sent them to the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center for analysis to determine whether data could be recovered.

Amanda Marsh said a Prescott firefighter later gave her Eric’s cell phone a few weeks after the fire. The firefighter, who she said was not in a command position, met her near the Yavapai County Courthouse in downtown Prescott.

“The phone was destroyed,” she said. “I threw it into a garbage can near the square.”

Amanda Marsh said there were also no text messages. “Eric used a flip phone and it was difficult for him to text,” she said.

She said Eric Marsh only had one cell phone. She noted that sometimes the crew took a satellite phone into remote areas, but she didn’t believe the satellite phone was used in Yarnell.

Amanda Marsh said no one from the Serious Accident Investigation Team that was contracted by the state to conduct an investigation into the disaster ever contacted her to obtain Eric’s cell phone records.

The SAIT released its Serious Accident Investigation Report on Sept. 28, 2013. The report found that no one did anything wrong despite the fact the hotshots were killed in a box canyon that wild land firefighters know are death traps.

Retired wildfire death investigator Dick Mangan has sharply criticized the SAIT for failing to obtain cell phone records, not only from Marsh, but everyone else working on the fire on June 30.

The use of cell phones during wildfires has become more common and has become a source of controversy since crucial decisions could be made privately that typically are done over radio channels that many firefighters can hear.

Amanda Marsh said she declined to provide the cell phone records in the past to InvestigativeMEDIA because she was trying to move on with her life.

She also said she knew the records didn’t show any communications between her husband and fire commanders in the moments leading up to the crucial decision around 4 p.m. to leave their safety zone.

The crew was attempting to reach another safety zone at the Boulder Springs Ranch on the outskirts of Yarnell. Former Prescott Wildlands Division Chief Darrell Willis, who oversaw the Granite Mountain crew, has said he believed the crew was moving in order to re-engage with the fire that was sweeping through Yarnell destroying more than one hundred homes.

(Willis Interview Part 1, July 23, 2013)

(Willis Interview, Part II, July 23, 2013)

The men were trapped by a wall flames at approximately 4:40 p.m. and deployed their fire shelters but there was no chance of survival from the 2,000 degree inferno.

The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health in December 2013 issued three citations and levied fines against the Arizona Forestry Division totaling $559,000 for its management of the fire.

But like the SAIT, Amanda Marsh said ADOSH investigators never contacted her about Eric’s cell phone records.

The Forestry Division reached a global settlement agreement last June 29 with ADOSH and 12 of the 13 families of the deceased hotshots who had sued the state. The settlement called for the state to pay $670,000 to the families with $50,000 going to each of the 12 families that settled and $10,000 to each of the remaining families.

The Forestry Division admitted to no wrongdoing in managing the fire.

© Copyright 2015 John Dougherty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Investigative MEDIA

Comments

  1. WantsToKnowTheTruth says

    There doesn’t appear to be any confirmation, even in this article, about whether the ‘cellphone records’ Ms. Amanda Mash herself is now referring to as ‘proof’ are actually copies of official cellphone records requested from the carrier… or ( perhaps? ) just copies of a regular phone bill that showed up in a mailbox, or ( perhaps? ) even something else?

    Did Amanda Marsh ( herself ) actually ( officially ) request the cellphone records for that phone… or does she just have a copy of something that some other mysterious person might have handed to her at some point?

    • Sonny says

      It is hard to believe Amanda here. She wants it all to look hunky dorie while we know there is more to this story. Quit hiding the truth and give us a straight story with a straight face. No way that three hours went by without communication and especially with the dissention going on concerning whether to go down into that death trap or not. I have to believe there was pressure from above Marsh considering how the fire was bungled from the get go. Those cell phone records would reveal things that is is duly apparent Amanda and those that did not want this cell phone and its records in evidence are hiding. Else Amanda and the evidence gatherers would have those redords on file and available to the public. We see too much talk and no documentation to back it up. All the Mike Dudly, Amanda, Holly talks amount to wind until we see the documentation.

      • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

        Reply to Sonny post on December 27, 2015 at 10:08 am

        >> Sonny said…
        >>
        >> All the Mike Dudly, Amanda, Holly talks amount to wind until
        >> we see the documentation.

        That’s correct, Sonny.

        Amanda Marsh’s own ( new ) statements mean that Mike Dudley himself is/was a LIAR when he said “We validated that there were no late afternoon phones calls to or from Eric Marsh’s cellphone”.

        How could he possibly NOT be a LIAR if ( as Amanda says ) the SAIT never even requested Eric’s cellphone records at all.

        Both Holly Neill and Amanda Marsh are also now simply asking a lot of people to just TRUST that they are accurately reporting about something THEY have seen… but refuse to produce the documents themselves, or tell us EXACTLY what it was they were ‘looking at’ ( Actual carrier trace records? A simple phone bill? Something else? ).

        I’m perfectly willing to believe that after Eric Marsh felt the need to call OPS1 Todd Abel privately to ‘explain himself’ about the ‘arguments’ before Rance Marquez even got back up to the north side of the fire… that he then put the phone in his pocket and it was never used again that day until he died with it still sitting there in his pocket.

        But I want to see the PROOF… and not have to just take the word of people who have their own ‘agendas’.

  2. WantsToKnowTheTruth says

    Thank you, John.

    Interesting that Amanda Marsh refused to be interviewed about all this BEFORE the original story ran… and only contacted you AFTER it was published and Ms. Holly Neill had ‘inserted’ herself into the public conversation.

    There are STILL some unsettling things about this ‘new’ information, even coming from Amanda Marsh.. but first… just a quick review of the TIMELINE involved here…

    ** THE TIMELINE…

    ** Wednesday, December 16, 2015 – Morning

    On the morning of December 16, 2015, John Dougherty of InvestigativeMEDIA published his article about the fact that the newly released Granite Mountain autopsy reports proved ( without any doubt ) that Eric Marsh’s cellphone had been found in his shirt pocket at the start of his autopsy examination at the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s office.

    Eric Marsh’s cellphone never entered the possession of the Yavapai County Sheriff’s office investigators who were THERE at the autopsies to ‘collect evidence’, and any/all ‘electronic devices’ being found were known to be of the highest priority.

    The article also details OTHER ‘electronic devices’ that were being found at the start of the autopsies that ALSO never ‘entered the YCSO’s chain of evidence’, such as Christopher MacKenzie’s Canon Digital Camera, also found in HIS shirt pocket.

    Amanda Marsh refused a request to be interviewed prior to this article being published.

    InvestigativeMEDIA
    Key evidence in Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy never provided to official investigators
    Published: December 16, 2015 – by John Dougherty – 25 comments
    http://www.investigativemedia.com/key-evidence-in-yarnell-hill-fire-tragedy-never-provided-to-official-investigators/#comment-320005

    ** Thursday, December 17, 2015 – 7:50 PM

    On the night of Thursday, December 17, 2015 at 7:50 pm, someone named Holly Neill left a comment on that new article directed to “John Dougherty et al” in which SHE claimed that SHE had been given Eric Marsh’s cellphone records by Amanda Marsh, even though those cellphone records had been denied to ‘other people and organizations’. Ms. Neill said that Amanda Marsh had been refusing to supply them to ‘others’ who had requested them because she didn’t consider them to be (quote) “professional or trustworthy persons”.

    Ms. Neill stated that SHE supposedly knew for a fact that there were no calls to or from Eric Marsh’s cellphone following a 1:11 PM call between Eric Marsh and his direct upline OPS1 Field Supervisor Todd Abel. Todd Abel himself testified he remembered receiving that call from Eric and it was about the ‘arguments’ he had just had with DIVSZ Rance Marquez.

    ** Friday, December 18, 2015 at 8:47 am

    On Friday morning, December 18, 2015, at 8:47 am. John Dougherty replied to Ms. Neill and made it clear that InvestigativeMEDIA had, in fact, been at least one of the ‘organizations’ that had requested Eric Marsh’s cellphone records but that request had been DENIED.

    John Dougherty said ( to Ms. Neill )…
    ———————————————————————-
    Holly, Please provide a complete copy of Eric Marsh’s cell phone records.
    I requested the records from the City of Prescott through the Arizona Public Records Law in 2013 and was turned down, just like ADOSH.
    As you must know, the undisputed fact that the cell phone arrived with Mr. Marsh’s body at the Office of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner and did not move into evidence is a story no matter what’s on the cell phone records.
    The fact the SAIT never looked at the cell phone records is a story.
    As far as I am concerned, there is no evidence whatsoever about Marsh’s cell phone records until they are publicly provided.
    ————————————————————————————-

    ** Saturday, December 19, 2015

    Amanda Marsh had refused to be interviewed prior to the publication of InvestigativeMEDIA’s December 16 article.

    But on Saturday night, 48 hours after this attempt by Ms. Neill to talk ( in public ) about the cellphone records she was now saying SHE had seen, Amanda Marsh contacted InvestigativeMEDIA herself.

    All of sudden… NOW she was ready to talk to InvestigativeMEDIA herself about Eric’s cellphone and the call records for that phone.

    ** Sunday, December 20, 2015

    The following day… after being contacted by Amanda Marsh… InvestigativeMEDIA then ran the ‘follow up’ story up above.

    There are STILL some unsettling things about this ‘new’ information, even coming from Amanda Marsh.

    Not the least of which are…

    1. She was, apparently, willing to just ‘talk’ about the cellphone records, but still not supply any original copies to InvestigativeMEDIA. There is no mention even in this followup article of InvestigativeMEDIA having an opportunity to VERIFY what is being said by inspecting whatever actual cellphone records seem to be in Ms. Marsh’s possession.

    2. She apparently still refuses to NAME the person who actually GAVE her Eric’s cellphone back, after it ‘walked out of the Medical Examiner’s office’ the day of Eric’s autopsy and this crucial evidence item never entered the possession of the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office investigators who were THERE to specifically ‘collect’ such items as ‘evidence’.

    3. Eric’s phone appears to have been returned to her in some kind of ‘special meeting’ with some (unnamed) Prescott firefighter on the Courthouse square… like it was some kind of ‘drug deal’, or something. This cellphone appears ( according to this interview ) to have been returned to her SEPARATE from the other two items that were known to have been found in the same shirt pocket. Eric’s Compass and Signal Mirror.

    This seems to be proof that the ‘cellphone’ itself went on a ‘separate journey’ than even the other two items that were found in the same pocket at the start of Eric’s autopsy.

    WHY?

    4. “The phone was destroyed,” she said. “I threw it into a garbage can near the square.”

    Not only is this not really all that ‘credible’… when Amanda Marsh first admitted she had received Eric’s cellphone back along with his Compass and Signal mirror in a public interview around the time of the first anniversary of the tragedy… she makes no mention of having done this. She only described the phone’s condition at that time as ‘non-working’, and there was no mention of if having been ‘destroyed’ and/or ‘disposed of’.

    I DO find it hard to believe that someone who has been publicly stating that she ‘cherishes’ anything she got back that belonged to Eric would have just tossed his cellphone into a garbage can moments after receiving it via this ‘mysterious meeting’ on the Prescott Courthouse Square.

    She ( Amanda ) has been known to post public photographs ( on Facebook ) of other items she received that were recovered from Eric’s body and clothing… and say how much she ‘cherishes having those things’. So it remains ‘not credible’ she would just throw that phone away no matter what condition it was in.

    There is also physical evidence and public photographs which suggest that Eric’s shirt pocket itself survived the burnover, so it’s hard to believe that something that might have been IN the pocket could have been ‘destroyed’ when the shirt pocket itself was NOT.

    Besides… Amanda Marsh herself is in no way qualified to know whether a modern electronic device is ‘destroyed’ to the point where no data could be salvaged from it. The fact that the phone never entered the possession of Official Investigators and had the chance to be examined by EXPERTS remains as ‘mysterious’ a set of circumstances as it has always been.

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Followup…

      Amanda Marsh has now CONFIRMED that US Forestry Official and SAIT Co-Lead Mike Dudley is an absolute bald-faced LIAR.

      ** Mike Dudley – SAIR Co-Leader – Presentation – June 2014

      On June 20, 2014, a YouTube user named Fitz Petersen published the following PUBLIC video of a presentation given by Mike Dudley, the Co-Lead of the Yarnell Hill SAIT Investigation, to a gathering of the Utah Unified Fire Authority…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWm3myJdQO4

      SAIT Co-Lead Mike Dudley said ( publicly )…
      —————————————————————————————
      +1:08:14
      One of the things that we did try to look into was… was there any undue influence given by a key member of the Prescott Fire Department by telephone. Not by radio… by telephone… pushing them to get off that spot… and we can validate that there wasn’t. There wasn’t anybody getting in the way of saying “Hey… you guys… get off your ass and get down here”… other than the one suggestion from the OPS “Can you come down?”… and it’s okay to ask that… but it’s also okay to say “No… we can’t… we’re not in a position to do that”.
      —————————————————————————————

      Dudley is obviously referring to the theory that emerged almost immediately after the tragedy that there might have been some attempt by Darrell Willis himself ( who was Eric’s boss and working the same fire ) to CALL Eric and somehow ORDER him to get Granite Mountain ‘to town’, regardless of how dangerous it was.

      Dudley says ( unequivocally )…

      “we can validate that there wasn’t.”

      According to Amanda Marsh’s new testimony… US Forestry Official Mike Dudley is a LIAR.

      His pants are not only on fire… they are also now burning down around his ankles.

      If the SAIT never even requested Eric Marsh’s cellphone records… then it was NOT possible for them to be sure someone ( Willis, or anyone else ) had NOT called Eric and suggested/directed/ordered him to “LEAVE that Safety Zone and get those men to town right now”.

  3. J. Stout says

    Surely it comes as no surprise to anyone, but the stories about this phone do not match up. The phone was in a shirt pocket. The shirt pocket didn’t happen to be “destroyed.” But someone is saying that the phone was destroyed.

    The tangled web of deceit grows ever larger.

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Reply to J. Stout post on December 21, 2015 at 12:25 pm

      >> J. Stout said…
      >>
      >> Surely it comes as no surprise to anyone, but the stories about this
      >> phone do not match up.

      Nope. No surprises at all.

      There are still ‘mysteries’ here and things that are ‘not credible’.

      Probably even MORE mysteries now than ever.

      >> J. Stout also said…
      >>
      >> The phone was in a shirt pocket. The shirt pocket didn’t happen to
      >> be “destroyed.”

      That’s correct. There is PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE to prove that the shirt pocket
      itself was NOT ‘destroyed’.

      Amanda Marsh herself has posted PUBLIC photos ( on Facebook ) of a remnant of Eric’s T-Shirt and the shirt pocket is intact. The YCSO photos released via FOIA also have remnants of Eric’s clothing and the outer shirt pocket also (appears) to have not been totally destroyed in the fire, either.

      >> J. Stout also said…
      >>
      >> But someone is saying that the phone was destroyed.

      That ‘someone’ is in no way QUALIFIED to know whether the phone was so damaged that data could not be recovered from it.

      Only an EXPERT could make that final determination.

      But there’s the rub.

      Eric Marsh’s cellphone was found in his shirt pocket at the start of his autopsy.

      It NEVER entered the possession of YCSO POLICE Investigators who were THERE at the autopsies for the specific reason of ‘collecting’ evidence.

      So Eric Marsh’s cellphone appears to have NEVER had the chance to have been examined by EXPERTS to see if any data could be recovered.

      >> J. Stout also said…
      >>
      >> The tangled web of deceit grows ever larger.

      Tampering with evidence is, in fact, a CRIME.. even if some final examination of that evidence might not have produced any significant information.

      The LACK of information is ALSO EVIDENCE, and if Investigators were purposely denied the opportunity to examine this critical electronic device… whoever participated in preventing that from happening is still guilty of a CRIME.
      .

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