Key evidence in Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy never provided to official investigators

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(A version of this story was published online in Phoenix New Times on Dec. 16, 2015.)

By John Dougherty

Key evidence that could explain why the Granite Mountain Hotshots moved from a safe location into a treacherous box canyon where 19 men died on June 30, 2013 was in the possession of the Office of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner but was not provided to the state-contracted investigation into the tragedy, autopsy records recently obtained by InvestigativeMEDIA show.

A cell phone belonging to Granite Mountain superintendent Eric Marsh and a functioning camera belonging to hotshot Christopher MacKenzie were with the men’s bodies when they arrived at the medical examiner’s office on July 1, 2013 but were not listed as evidence that was later collected by the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, autopsy records for Marsh and MacKenzie show.

Granite Mountain Hotshots in front of an ancient tree on Granite Mountain after saving the tree during the June 2013 Doce Fire. Photo by Christopher MacKenzie

Granite Mountain Hotshots in front of an ancient tree they saved during the June 2013 Doce Fire. Photo by Christopher MacKenzie

The Maricopa County medical examiner conducted autopsies on all 19 hotshots for Yavapai County on July 2, 2013.

The YCSO has no record of Marsh’s cell phone or MacKenzie’s camera among the evidence collected from the medical examiner, according to a YCSO police report. Marsh’s cell phone and MacKenzie’s camera ended up with family members outside the formal chain-0f-custody.

MacKenzie’s autopsy report states Deputy State Forester Jerry Payne and YCSO Criminal Investigations Commander Lieutenant Tom Boelts were present. But neither name appears on Marsh’s autopsy report.

The YCSO was in charge of gathering all evidence from the medical examiner and later turning it over to the Serious Accident Investigation Team (SAIT) which was contracted by the Arizona Forestry Division to conduct the formal investigation into the Yarnell Hill Fire disaster, according to the autopsy reports and the YCSO report.

Marsh’s cell phone could have provided evidence of who he was in communication with in the moments before and while the crew moved from its safety zone in a burned over area on the eastern ridge of the Weaver Mountains west of Yarnell and into a chaparral-choked box canyon where the men were trapped by a wall of flames.

MacKenzie’s camera included video clips of a crucial discussion between Marsh and Granite Mountain Captain Jesse Steed that suggests a disagreement over tactics before the crew left the “black”, burned-over area.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk refused to release the autopsy reports in 2013 saying privacy concerns outweighed the public interest.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk refused to release the autopsy reports in 2013 saying privacy concerns outweighed the public interest.

The autopsy records were only recently released after Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk refused repeated media requests under the Arizona Public Records Law for the reports in the months immediately after the fire. Polk said in August 2013 that the privacy interests of the families of the fallen firefighters exceeded the public’s right to examine the reports.

InvestigativeMEDIA obtained the reports in October. The autopsy reports were released four months after all litigation filed by the families of hotshots seeking $237 million in damages from the state Forestry Division and the Central Yavapai (County) Fire District had been settled.

The settlement agreement also included dropping the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s wrongful death case against the state Forestry Division for allegedly mishandling fire suppression efforts during the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Dr. Philip Keen, the former chief medical examiner for Yavapai and Maricopa counties, said Monday law enforcement determines what personal items accompanying bodies should be collected for evidence and what should be released to funeral homes, which then provide the personal belongings to relatives.

YCSO deputy Joshua Nelson collected cell phones that arrived at the medical examiner’s office from the personal items of two other hotshots and the cell phones were subsequently identified as evidence, according to autopsy records. On July 4, 2013, three other YCSO personnel went through the personal property of each firefighter at the medical examiner’s office, YCSO records show.

“The only items that were separated from the personal belongings were cell phones,” the July 16, 2013 report prepared by YCSO Detective J. McDormett states. “Data down loads will be attempted for the state investigators and the phones will then be returned to the fire department and eventually the families.”

YCSO Lieutenant Boelts and technician John File accompanied McDormett when the cell phones were reportedly separated from the personnel belongings for each hotshot, the report states.

But Marsh’s cell phone and McKenzie’s still working camera — although not a cell phone but clearly important because of the photos and videos of the fire — were not included in the evidence collected by the YCSO.

“If they (personal property) were released to the same deputies, then there is something fishy here,” Keen said. Keen worked as the Yavapai County chief medical examiner for 29 years and also served as the Maricopa County chief medical examiner for 14 years.

Lieutenant Boelts said Monday that he was at the medical examiners office when the autopsies were performed but that he didn’t observe the autopsies. “I was there in an administrative role,” he said.

Lieutenant Boelts said he doesn’t know anything about what happened to Marsh’s cell phone or MacKenzie’s camera. He said he wasn’t going to respond to Keen’s description of the cell phone and camera not moving into evidence as “fishy”.

The YCSO police report, however, states that on July 4, 2013 Lieutenant Boelts specifically prepared a “spreadsheet” that detailed items collected from each firefighter that were placed in plastic bags.

“Note that (Lieutenant) Boelts created a spreadsheet articulating what personal property was located in each bag with corresponding name, YCSO number (1-19) and medical examiner case number,” the YCSO police report states.

Lieutenant Boelts told InvestigativeMEDIA that Deputy Nelson picked up all the personal belongings of the firefighters and turned them over to the Prescott Fire Department.

The YCSO police report, however, states that McDermott and Lieutenant Boelts gave the firefighters’ personal items and the spreadsheet listing the items to Rob Zazueta of Chino Valley Fire Department on July 4, 2013.

Mike Molzhon, administrative services manager for the Office of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner, did not comment on why Marsh’s cell phone and MacKenzie’s camera did not appear as evidence.

Arizona Forestry Division spokesman Bill Boyd said Monday that the division doesn’t know why the evidence wasn’t forwarded to YCSO and subsequently to the investigation team and how that may have impacted the investigation.

“You’re going to have to talk to them (the Serious Accident Investigation Team),” Boyd said.

The forestry division signed an agreement to form the accident investigation team led by out-of-state experts on July 3, 2013 to review the conditions and events leading to the tragedy.

Jim Karels, the state Forester for the Florida Forest Service, led the 54-member investigation. The team visited the accident site, reviewed audio and video files, interviewed individuals associated with the incident, reviewed fire weather and behavior data, and examined available records and physical evidence.

Messages left with the Florida Forest Service requesting an interview with Karels were not returned.

The broken chain-of-custody of two key pieces of evidence further undermines the integrity of the already roundly criticized investigation into the worse loss of life suffered by wild fire suppression teams, known as Interagency Hotshot Crews, since they were founded in 1946.

Two Granite Mountain hotshots with saws on their shoulders shortly before 4 p.m., June 30, 2013 at the Yarnell Hill Fire. Photo by Christopher MacKenzie.

Two Granite Mountain hotshots with saws on their shoulders shortly before 4 p.m., June 30, 2013 at the Yarnell Hill Fire. Photo by Christopher MacKenzie.

“If we are aware of two things like that, what else is there that nobody has seen?” asks Ted Putnam, a retired federal wildfire fatality investigator who participated in the investigation of the South Canyon Fire that killed 14 firefighters in Colorado in 1994.

The discovery that Marsh’s cell phone never made it into evidence and the fact that the SAIT subsequently never sought to obtain Marsh’s cell phone records is a red flag that investigators failed to do basic tasks.

“The basic question in my mind is why didn’t (SAIT investigators) ask for the cell phone records?” says Dick Mangan, a retired wildfire death investigator who participated in the South Canyon investigation and in the investigation of the 1990 Dude Fire in Arizona that killed six firefighters.

Mangan says if he had been conducting the Yarnell Hill Fire investigation he would have obtained the cell phone records of everyone on the fire.

“Who the hell was talking to who and at what time?“ he says. “(Checking) cell phone records in this day and age is basic.”

Marsh’s cell phone was with his body when it arrived at the Medical Examiner’s office on July 1, 2013, autopsy records show. The phone, however, is not listed as evidence in the autopsy report. Dr. Vladimir Shvarts signed the autopsy report.

The cell phone eventually ended up in the possession of Marsh’s widow, Amanda, according to the Prescott Courier. Amanda Marsh declined a request for an interview and has in the past refused to provide copies of Marsh’s cell phone records from June 30, 2013.

Autopsy records for MacKenzie show a cell phone and a Canon camera were present in the body bag that contained MacKenzie’s remains. The autopsy report notes that the Canon S1400IS camera was still “working”.

The autopsy report, prepared by Dr. Christopher K. Poulos, does not include the camera or the cellphone under the heading “EVIDENCE”. Instead, Dr. Poulos states the evidence “includes a flame retardant pouch, one boot, one helmet, pants with belt, two gloves and a yellow long-sleeve shirt size large.”

The YCSO report, however, includes MacKenzie’s cellphone as evidence. But the more important Canon camera that includes the two videos of conversations between Marsh and Steed is not included in YCSO evidence.

MacKenzie’s Canon camera was sent to his father, Mike MacKenzie, sometime before July 13, according to a Sept. 28, 2013 story in the Courier. Mike MacKenzie was surprised to discover it was still functioning, the paper reported.

Mike MacKenzie reportedly made a copy of the photographs and videos and provided them to Prescott Wildlands Division Chief Darrell Willis on July 13 during his son’s funeral services, according to the Prescott Courier. Willis supervised the Granite Mountain crew. Willis, who has since retired, said he gave a CD with the photos and videos to the SAIT.

Former Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis, foreground right, answers media questions at the deployment site where the Granite Mountain Hotshots died. Photo by John Dougherty

Former Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis, center, answers media questions at the deployment site where the Granite Mountain Hotshots died. Photo by John Dougherty

The photos and videos do not appear in the formal, 122-page Serious Accident Investigation Report (SAIR) that was released to the families and public on Sept. 28, 2013. Instead, they are among thousands of pages of supporting documents to the SAIR that were released to the media in December 2013.

The SAIR does not mention the two videos that suggest there was a disagreement between Marsh and Steed. The two nine-second videos were taken about 4 p.m. on June 30. Steed appears in the video talking to Marsh, who is in another location. Eleven of the hotshots appear in the video.

“I was just saying, I knew this was coming when I called you and asked what your comfort level was,” Marsh says to Steed in the first short video. “I could just feel it, you know.”

The second clip begins with Marsh ending a sentence with “…saying you know, (unintelligible).” Steed replies, “I copy, and it’s (the fire) almost made it to that two-track road that we walked in on.”

Brendan McDonough, the sole surviving Granite Mountain Hotshot, reportedly told Willis last year that there was a heated disagreement between Steed and Marsh about moving the crew. Willis informed Prescott town attorney Jon Paladini about what McDonough said, according to a story published in the Arizona Republic. Steed did not want the crew to leave its safe zone, but subsequently relented to Marsh’s order, according to the account provided by Paladini.

McDonough later denied saying what Paladini told the paper. McDonough has never provided sworn testimony about what he heard over the crew’s radio channel in the moments leading up to their deaths.

The SAIR concluded that no one did anything wrong despite the fact 19 men died in a box canyon that wild land firefighters know are deathtraps. The report states there was lack of communications between Granite Mountain and fire supervisors in the 33 minutes leading up to their desperate call for help at about 4:37 p.m.

“There is much that cannot be known about the crew’s decisions and actions prior to their entrapment and fire shelter deployment around (4:42 p.m.).” (Emphasis included in report.)

The report also stated investigators had “no indication that anyone asked them to move and does not know for certain why they moved.”

InvestigativeMEDIA filed a request for the autopsy reports under the Arizona Public Records Law in October, more than two years after Polk issued an unusual letter refusing to release the autopsy records citing privacy concerns.

“Therefore, absent a court order, these items will not be released,” Polk stated in an Aug. 26, 2013 letter sent to news organizations.

By the time the autopsy reports were released, 12 of 13 wrongful death lawsuits filed by the families of the deceased hotshots against the state Forestry Division and the Central Yavapai (County) Fire District had been settled. A court dismissed the 13th suit last summer. The settlement called for the 12 families  to each receive $50,000 and the seven other families each received $10,000.

The state Forestry Division admitted to no wrongdoing.

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

Comments

  1. WantsToKnowTheTruth says

    This article about key evidence definitely going ‘missing’ in the Yarnell Hill fire investigation and somehow bypassing the possession of YCSO investigators ( Eric Marsh’s cellphone, Christopher MacKenzie’s camera, etc, etc.. ) was also re-published in the Tucson Weekly…

    The Tucson Weekly
    Article Title: A New Twist in the Death of Granite Mountain Hotshots During 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire
    Published: Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 11:00 AM – By Jim Nintzel
    http://www.newsjs.com/url.php?p=http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2015/12/16/a-new-twist-in-the-death-of-granite-mountain-hotshots-during-2013-yarnell-hill-fire

    From that article…
    —————————————————————————
    Journalist John Dougherty’s Investigative MEDIA organization uncovers a strange wrinkle in the investigation of the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in which 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters lost their lives:

    ( Original article reprinted )
    —————————————————————————

  2. John Dougherty says

    For the record, I want correct a statement I said about Holly Neill when I stated she is making money from her research into the YHF. Ms. Neill says she is not receiving pay for her research into the fire.

    Thanks to everyone for their contributions, willingness to engage in civil debate and insights into the tragic deaths of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.

    • Robert poston says

      May all our fallen brothers rest in peace. May God always be with us on the fire line at all times. Lord bring peace to the families for their loss, i ask this in Jesus’s almighty name. Amen.

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      But it HAS been reported that she is one of author John Maclean’s primary ‘research partners’ in the for-profit BOOK that HE is working on and will ( supposedly ) someday publish.

      Retail price: ??? Unknown at this time.

      So whether or not Ms. Neill is ‘assisting’ Mr. Maclean under a 1099 or a W2 ( or even just a handshake )… it is still not incorrect to say she is very much helping HIM with HIS for-profit endeavor.

  3. calvin says

    The confirmation of Marsh calling Abel from the cell phone (prior to deployment hour) that contains no later call to or from any other person in the ICT confirms something seemingly important. All communication was via radio! How did Cordes know GM was moving to the BSR? It was transmitted via radio!

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      It also INCREASES the probability that there are any number of persons who might have overheard any conversations along those lines… and they are simply STILL not willing to talk about it.

      We still have no idea exactly WHO the SAIT talked to, or when, or what questions they were asked.

      As for ADOSH… it’s still also obvious that most of the ‘interviewees’ ( even if they didn’t have a lawyer present, which most of them did ) were simply playing the “ask me the right question and I might give you the right answer” game.

      I actually don’t recall ADOSH, in ANY of the interviews, asking any of the interviewees the specific question…

      “Even if the radio traffic was not DIRECTED at you… do you recall hearing ANY radio traffic that afternoon between Eric Marsh and/or Jesse Steed and others working the fire?”

      We know for a FACT that Brendan McDonough never told the ADOSH investigators everything he had, in fact, heard over the radio. Even with TWO separate interviews.

      So how many others were also doing a ‘Brendan McDonough’ during their interviews?

      We still don’t know.

      • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

        Correction for above…

        I said…

        “We still have no idea exactly WHO the SAIT talked to, or when, or what questions they were asked.”

        Not entirely true. The SAIR narrative itself mentions, from time to time, where some of that ‘story’ was coming from ( and from who )… and the YIN notes also obviously indicate SOME of the people that SAIT talked to.

        But we still have no idea if that’s the complete list, or what QUESTIONS were actually asked, or even if the ‘testimony’ they did make into those disjointed NOTES bears any resemblance to their full testimony.

          • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

            Reply to Robert the Second (RTS) post on
            December 18, 2015 at 3:58 pm

            >> RTS said…
            >>
            >> WTKTT,
            >>
            >> Would you please provide a link and/or source for
            >> the Yarnell Investigative Notes (YIN)?

            I already did, in response to your same request over in Chapter XVIII ( 18 ) of this ongoing discussion..

            Here is that same reply posted here…
            ———————————————————————
            On December 17, 2015 at 1:59 pm, WantsToKnowTheTruth said…

            Since they were first released… they’ve always been sitting in InvestigativeMEDIA’s online Dropbox that contains all of the other SAIT investigation data.

            It’s in the “Interview Notes” folder up there.

            Here is a direct link to the PDF file sitting up in that ‘Dropbox’…

            https://www.dropbox.com/sh/02ue6bnjp6nazkm/AAD0Mx98JeLOmV7peH2I3zqja/Interview%20Notes/N-%20InterviewNotes%20-%20redacted.pdf?dl=0
            ———————————————————————–

  4. WantsToKnowTheTruth says

    **
    ** CONFIRMATION THAT THE SAIT NEVER EVEN TRIED TO OBTAIN
    ** CELLPHONE RECORDS?

    >> On December 17, 2015 at 7:50 pm, Holly Neill said…
    >>
    >> I obtained Mr. Marsh’s cell phone records from his wife Amanda Marsh over
    >> a year ago, in Nov. of 2014 after requesting them much earlier. According to
    >> her at that time, no professional or trustworthy person had requested them
    >> beforehand.
    >>
    >> Therefore, was this an incomplete investigation? YES.

    So… I’m not sure it was Ms. Neill’s intention to do so… but she basically just PROVED that Florida State Forester Jim Karels and USFS official Mike Dudley ( Co-leaders of the SAIT ), and others on that Arizona Forestry contracted SAIT team were flat-out LYING in their official report.

    One has to assume that Ms. Amanda ‘Beno’ Marsh WOULD have considered a request for cell records from that Arizona Forestry SAIT team to be a ‘valid’ request… and coming from ( in her mind ) “professional and trustworthy people”… yes?

    Well… then Ms. Neill is CONFIRMING that that request NEVER TOOK PLACE, and the SAIT remained absolutely CLUELESS about whether the man in charge of those other men that day did, or didn’t ‘communicate’ with anyone using his cellphone in the critical time leading up to their deaths.

    So that makes absolute poppycock out of the following statement in the SAIR…

    From PDF page 39 ( of 122 pages ) in the SAIR document…
    —————————————————————————-
    Analysis

    There is a gap of over 30 minutes in the information available for the Granite Mountain IHC. From 1604 until 1637, the Team cannot verify any communications from the crew, and we have almost no direct information from them.
    —————————————————————————-

    Key phrase…

    “the (SAIT) Team cannot verify any communications from the crew:

    Ms. Holly Neill is now CONFIRMING they didn’t even TRY.

    If they did NOT actually request the cellphone records of the person who was leading the crew itself as part of their ‘investigation’… then they had no right making any statements to the effect that they ‘could not verify’ something.

    To get anywhere near the ‘truthful’ range, then, that published statement from them should have read more like this, then…

    —————————————————————————-
    Analysis

    There SEEMS to be a gap of over 30 minutes in the information available for the Granite Mountain IHC from 1604 until 1637. The Team made very little effort to VERIFY whether or not anyone was directly communicating with them… so there MIGHT have been some direct communications via cellphone in the critical time period leading to their deaths… but we just don’t know. Sorry.
    —————————————————————————-

    You also still have to love the ‘clever’ choice of words in this statement…

    “we have ALMOST no direct information from them”

    ALMOST?

    We all know the times where ‘almost’ only counts… but in this context ‘almost’ means they DID have at least SOME ‘direct information from them’, but they didn’t WANT to mention it.

    • Woodsman says

      Expertly crafted word choices:

      “There is a gap of over 30 minutes in the information available for the Granite Mountain IHC. From 1604 until 1637, the Team cannot verify any communications from the crew, and we have almost no direct information from them.”

      ‘the Team’: all of the team? some of the Team?

      ‘Verify’: to what standard?

      ‘from the crew’: what about TO the crew?

      ‘almost’: yeah, I caught that too………so you have some(but it can’t be verified?)

      ‘direct’: how about indirect communication? any of THAT going on?…that you can ‘verify?’

      Expertly crafted……..

      • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

        And it still remains beyond irony that even after making this “we cannot verify’ statement, without explaining ( as you point out ) what their own CRITERIA was, or what METHODS were used…

        …the actual STATEMENT that there were then accepting as ‘verified’ in order to END the 30 minute blackout was that one, single (supposed) statement from ‘Bravo 33’ that they heard someone saying “That’s it… that’s where we want the retardant”.

        That was supposedly transmitted over the Air-To-Ground channel, one of THE most monitored channels on any fire ( ‘cus that’s there the ‘action’ is ).

        But NO ONE ELSE but this one guy up in an airplane recalls hearing that one statement from this mysterious person.

        And Jim Karels, Mike Dudley and the rest of the SAIT called THAT a ‘verified communication’ and used it as the de-facto end of this ‘supposed’ blackout.

        They used it because it fit their narrative. That’s all.

        Anything that didn’t ( fit their narrative ) remained ‘unverified communication’.

  5. Holly Neill says

    To John Dougherty et al:

    After reading your latest article on speculation and insinuations concerning cell phones and records, you need to know that Eric Marsh’s cell phone records prove that there were no calls to him or from him after 1:11 PM on June 30, 2013.

    The last call was between Eric Marsh and Todd Abel at 1:11pm and it lasted for 8 minutes. This conversation included information from Marsh to Abel about earlier communications between Rance Marquez and Eric Marsh.

    There’s no smoking gun here with “hiding” his cell phone or withholding his cell phone records as evidence, for any reason.

    I obtained Mr. Marsh’s cell phone records from his wife Amanda Marsh over a year ago, in Nov. of 2014 after requesting them much earlier. According to her at that time, no professional or trustworthy person had requested them beforehand.

    Therefore, was this an incomplete investigation? YES.. Was there a Conspiracy? NO.

    At the very least I hope you will stop the shameful insinuations and conspiracy theories when it comes to Marsh’s cell phone records, and MOVE ON.

    • Woodsman says

      Ms. Neill,

      Thanks for weighing in. I’m trying to learn the facts about the Yarnell Hill fire.

      It will help me if you can tell me what part(s) of Mr. Dougherty’s article were factually incorrect. Do you have a official copy of Mr. Marsh’ cell phone records?

      The last call made was to Todd Abel at 1:11PM, according to your records. You say the conversation was about earlier communications between Mr. Marsh & Mr. Marquez? Did you interview Mr. Abel to find out the content of the conversation? Do you know anything else about this conversation?

      I really appreciate your help with this. You seem to have some very valuable information.

      Thank you.

      Woodsman

    • Sonny says

      OSHA did request and were denied the records. I would say they are both professional and trustworthy — we did hike Brett Steurer and Bruce Hanna the route of the GMHS on September 2013, investigators for OSHA. Then we hiked you, you husband Wayne, Dr. Ted Putnam and on a second hike John MacClean the author in November 2013. So I am curious how investigators were denied yet you could get the record. Was anything redacted after that length of time? Why would you withhold all this information for all this time. When you hiked with us that was one of our number one concerns and we told you that yet you never mentioned that you had the records. Now you say to move on when there is plenty yet to say and plenty of photos and testimony that we do know will come out.

      As far as OSHA goes they did the right thing as far as they went or were allowed to go and did uncover many foibles in operations that day. But there is much more to the story that has cost those lives, Yarnell lives, almost half the town residences, a number of Peeples Valley homes, and millions of dollars in tax payer money that could have and should have been avoided. I do not think we will move on until all is known despite so many that hope that happens. Too much at stake here including illnesses mostly among the elderly as I myself can attest to. The short and long term effects from NH3 and the 8% trade secret chemicals that fumed the residents of Yarnell and Glen Isla has yet to be investigated as well. There has been no long term study on that eventhough NH3 is a lung cell killer and has been known to kill tens of thousands of fish when accidentally dumped into rivers. The 30,000 gallons plus of that ammonium phosphate that was dumped as an agent orange slurry in our back yards needs to be studied since the amount of deaths, especially among the elderly and even a younger asthma sufferer is way over the amount of deaths we would expect under normal conditions.

      If we indeed have a memorial let it be a legacy of honesty. The errors made by the GMHS will be a testimony to save lives in future wild land fire fighting. Perfuming a stinky rotten situation is not good work.

      Just this very day we met a very important witness and there are a group of these witnesses that have vowed to come forward with more important revelations about this fire. That is their plan and their time. So we are not about to move on at this point

    • Robert the Second says

      Holly Neil,

      I may as well post here too.

      You posted “The last call was between Eric Marsh and Todd Abel at 1:11pm and it lasted for 8 minutes. This conversation included information from Marsh to Abel about earlier communications between Rance Marquez and Eric Marsh.”

      And so you have documented proof of this? You have recordings and/or transcripts of these ‘earlier communications between Marquez and Marsh’?

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Reply to Holly Neill post on December 17, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      >> Holly Neill said…
      >>
      >> Eric Marsh’s cell phone records prove that there were no calls to him
      >> or from him after 1:11 PM on June 30, 2013.

      First and foremost… thank you for taking the time to contribute to this ongoing discussion.

      It’s good to know at least SOMEONE ( even though you are not an investigator ) has had a chance to ‘see’ those cell phone records.

      That being said… it is also documented in Darrell Willis’ cell phone records that he DID attempt to call Eric Marsh at 4:50 PM that afternoon, during that time when everyone at the Ranch House Restaurant was trying to figure out where the hell they WERE.

      Darrell Willis’ cellphone records indicate the call went to voice mail… which ( I believe ) should ALSO then be showing up on the cell phone records YOU have… if they are accurate.

      >> Holly Neill also said…
      >>
      >> The last call was between Eric Marsh and Todd Abel at 1:11pm and it
      >> lasted for 8 minutes. This conversation included information from
      >> Marsh to Abel about earlier communications between Rance Marquez
      >> and Eric Marsh.

      I’m assuming that you, yourself, are also just ‘assuming’ that was the content of that conversation because of the other public testimony.

      I think that is, in fact, a ‘safe’ assumption.

      It matches other testimony that once Rance Marquez basically ‘gave up’ on trying to figure out how to handle the south side of the fire as an assigned ‘Division Z’ and he just went back to the north side of the fire to see if he could make himself useful up there… Eric Marsh DID feel the need to call OPS1 Todd Abel and explain that Marsh had to “get a little rougher than I normally like to” with the guy ( Marquez ) because of their inability to agree on a Division Boundary.

      >> Holly Neill also said…
      >>
      >> There’s no smoking gun here with “hiding” his cell phone or withholding
      >> his cell phone records as evidence, for any reason.

      You are asking us to just take your WORD for that.

      You are also missing the point whereby it doesn’t matter if the resulting examination of a crucial piece of evidence produces ‘results’, or not.

      Tampering with ‘evidence’ in any way ( such as making some effort, however small or large, to prevent investigators from even having it )… is a CRIME.

      There are OTHER ‘electronic devices’ that went ‘missing’ from that ‘scene’, such as the Garmin Oregon 450 portable GPS device that was KNOWN to be attached to Robert Caldwell’s right pack strap.

      Brendan McDonough also testified to ADOSH that they ( GM ) normally had even up to 4 or 5 portable GPS units out there with them that day.

      NONE of those GPS units ( and the very important evidence THEY might contain ) ever entered the chain of evidence.

      It’s also not possible they all could have ‘melted away to nothing’ because some of the components in them were forged at temperatures even higher than anything that was present in or around that deployment site. There WOULD, at least, have been enough left of any modern handheld GPS device to at least still identify it as such.

      At least one ( perhaps more )… the one Christopher MacKenzie photographed ‘attached’ to Robert Caldwell that very day… just ‘got up and walked away’ from the deployment site.

      Ditto for another crucial piece of evidence.

      Christopher MacKenzie’s Canon digital camera.

      We seem to know for a FACT now ( thanks to InvestigativeMEDIA and Mr. John Dougherty ) that it, also, just ‘got up and walked out’ of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s office and bypassed all YCSO policeman whose were THERE to ‘collect evidence’.

      Christopher’s Canon Digital camera was right there in his left shirt pocket when they began the autopsy. His cell phone was also right there in the right pocket of his PANTS.

      Chrsitopher’s cellphone ended up in the official YCSO ‘evidence chain’.

      His ‘working’ ( as even noted by the Medical Examiner’s ) Canon camera did NOT.

      There has to be an ‘explanation’ for that.

      The only reason anyone EVER got to see that ‘crucial evidence’ that was sitting right there on Christopher’s camera is because Christopher’s own FATHER took it upon HIMSELF to make SURE that evidence ‘reentered the investigation’.

      Just like Eric Marsh’s cellphone… we KNOW now that these things were FOUND directly on the bodies themselves… but they NEVER entered the official ‘chain of evidence’ at the time they were supposed to… but somehow ( magically? ) WERE returned to family members.

      Again… tampering with evidence is a CRIME, even if no ‘foul play’ charges result from the investigation.

      Eric Marsh’s cell phone is now KNOWN to have simply been sitting in his front shirt pocket along with his compass and signal mirror.

      His autopsy report then ( inexplicably ) only reports the signal mirror and the compass being entered into ‘evidence’ and entering the possession of the YCSO police detectives legally charged with investigating the incident… and commonly known to be placing a HIGH evidentiary value on any/all electronic devices.

      Eric Marsh’s cell phone then NEVER enters the YCSO ‘chain of evidence’.

      But then it suddenly is ‘returned’ to Amanda Marsh.

      Can you fill in any of the ‘blanks’, there?

      WHO gave Eric Marsh’s cellphone BACK to Amanda Marsh?

      >> Holly Neill also said…
      >>
      >> I obtained Mr. Marsh’s cell phone records from his wife Amanda Marsh
      >> over a year ago, in Nov. of 2014 after requesting them much earlier.
      >> According to her at that time, no professional or trustworthy person
      >> had requested them beforehand.

      Is Amanda Marsh including ADOSH in that list of ‘not professional or trustworthy’ persons?

      ADOSH specifically requested Eric Marsh’s cellphone records from the City of Prescott.
      The City of Prescott was paying Eric Marsh a ‘stipend’ for that phone… so as his employer, they had every right to go direct to the carrier and request call records… just as they did for Darrell Willis’ phone.

      Inexplicably… the City of Prescott told ADOSH they could not obtain Eric Marsh’s call records, and they ONLY supplied the call records for Darrell Willis.

      Was Ms. Marsh AWARE that this State or Arizona agency charged with investigating the incident DID want those call records?

      Who else did Ms. Marsh consider ‘not ‘trustworthy or professional’?

      Anyone who didn’t once wear Nomex?

      >> Holly Neill also said…
      >>
      >> Therefore, was this an incomplete investigation? YES..

      See above. There is now substantial evidence that it WAS an ‘incomplete investigation’ because there MAY have been some amount of ‘tampering with evidence’… which is, in and of itself, a CRIME.

      >> Holly Neill said…
      >>
      >> Was there a Conspiracy? NO.

      Do you, yourself, then, have any explanation why items that were removed directly from the bodies at the start of autopsy examination, with police officers present to ‘collect evidence’… never entered their possession… yet… somehow… magically ‘showed up’ in the hands of family members?

      Deborah Pfingston ( Andrew Ashcraft’s mother ) left a comment on this very ongoing discussion that said “Anyone who knew Eric knew that he always carried TWO cellphones with him”.

      Did that ever come up in your obviously extended contact/conversation with Ms. Amanda Beno Marsh?

      Perhaps Ms. Marsh can contradict Ms. Pfingston and put THAT to rest once and for all?

      How is Mr. Maclean’s book coming?

      Any word on when it might be finished?

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Reply to Holly Neill post on December 17, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      >> Holly Neill said…
      >>
      >> There’s no smoking gun here with “hiding” his cell phone or withholding
      >> his cell phone records as evidence, for any reason.

      Then you should have no problems or hesitations at all in answering the following question.

      WHO gave Eric Marsh’s cellphone BACK to Amanda Marsh?

  6. Marti Reed says

    Thank you for publishing this, JD!

    As the one who first followed/documented Chris’s camera, my mind is right now a bit boggled by this new information you have provided here.

    “Autopsy records for MacKenzie show a cell phone and a Canon camera were present in the body bag that contained MacKenzie’s remains. ”

    I’m really having a cognitive dissonance regarding the reporting that his camera accompanied his body. Because his camera was photographed on the site after his body had already been transported to Phoenix.

    There is a whole bunch of massively fishy going on here.

  7. Sonny says

    http://cvrnews.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubsectionID=1&ArticleID=57322

    It is interesting that retired Prescott Wild land Division Chief Duane Steinbrink is Amanda Marsh’s neighbor and that Willis is his replacement. You see the two men flanking Amanda in the link I have provided. One wonders why Willis was available to testify against Joy when all correspondence and communication was amicable between Joy and Willis. The attempt to gag Joy was based on hearsay and now we see that ‘Amanda held crucial evidence and refused to give it up after YCSO had given her the phone. What in those phone records did investigators and Amanda not want the public to see? Actually I believe the phone itself was not needed to get the records of Marsh and who he was speaking with in the last so called black out communication time before the deployment. I understand that record can be obtained through the cell companies. Whew this omission of that camera of Chris. The cell phone were such extremely crucial evidence omitted that we now have more red flags going up. Omissions and commissios and obvious collusion begs for an outside investigation by Federal or perhaps private investigating parties. The loved ones, friends of wildland firefighters, firefighters. concerned people, and taxpayers who are now indebted for millions in payouts on a fire that should have been put out for a few hundred dollors deserve nothing but the truth and facts to understand why this fire was so badly managed. No more cover up to make a fiasco into a so call “God had other plans for them” no blame affair. Joy adds you do not need a phone because she was able to get her phone records for June 30, 2013 to get time sensitive records of when she talked to people the day we were witnessing the GMHS crew activities and the Yarnell Hill Fire grow into an inferno.

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Reply to Sonny post on December 16, 2015 at 10:03 am

      >> Sonny said…
      >>
      >> What in those phone records did investigators and Amanda not
      >> want the public to see? Actually I believe the phone itself was not
      >> needed to get the records of Marsh and who he was speaking with
      >> in the last so called black out communication time before the
      >> deployment. I understand that record can be obtained through
      >> the cell companies.

      That’s correct, Sonny.

      The City of Prescott was PAYING for Eric Marsh’s cell phone, and they didn’t need ( and still do not need ) Amanda Marsh’s ‘permission’ to obtain call records.

      On August 19, 2013, in his first of two ADOSH interviews, Darrell Willis himself CONFIRMED to ADOSH that Marsh’s cell phone was being PAID FOR by the City of Prescott.

      Willis confirmed that Eric Marsh had a ‘company phone’.

      Q = Bruce Hanna, ADOSH investigator
      Q1 = Barry Hicks, ADOSH investigator
      A = Darrell Willis, Prescott Wildland Division Chief and SPGS2 at Yarnell
      ———————————————————————————
      2057 Q: Um, you wanted to talk about Eric and Jesse, as far as their phones.
      2058
      2059 A: Yeah.
      2060
      2061 Q: If they were personal phones or if they were company phones.
      2062
      2063 A: Eric had a c- company phone. Jesse’s phone, I just found in a truck the other
      2064 day, sitting in the cab. That’s his personal phone.
      2065
      2066 Q: Okay.
      2067
      2068 Q1: And he didn’t – he wasn’t packing a company phone?
      2069
      2070 A: Mmm-mm. Just Eric.
      2071
      2072 Q: So the communications for Eric’s phone could be – we could get – obtain
      2073 those?
      2074
      2075 Q1: Yeah, I – I think…
      2076
      2077 A: We could.
      2078
      2079 Q: Yeah.
      2080
      2081 A: I think there is some of that that’s already been done, though. From the
      2082 Sheriff’s Department.
      2083
      2084 Q: From the Sheriff’s Department?
      2085
      2086 Q1: Yep.
      ——————————————————————————–

      When ADOSH then made a request directly to the City of Prescott for the cell phone records for BOTH Darrell Willis’ and Eric Marshs’ cell phones… they DID receive back the full ‘call records’ for Darell Willis… but the City of Prescott, in a LETTER back to ADOSH, stated that ADOSH would have to request the ‘call records’ for Eric’s phone directly from his widow, Amanda Marsh.

      They ( the City of Prescott ) said something about it was because Eric Marsh was only receiving a ‘stipend’ from the City of Prescott to pay for his phone, and that’s why they were not supplying HIS ‘call records’ and ADOSH would have to get them from his widow.

      That explanation was complete BULLSHIT.

      Even if Eric Marsh was only receiving a ‘stipend’ for the use of his phone, the City of Prescott ( the ones paying the stipend ) still had every right to obtain all ‘business’ related call records WITHOUT Amanda Marsh’s ‘permission’.

      The City of Prescott was obviously CHOOSING to NOT supply ADOSH with Eric Marsh’s cell phone records.

      ADOSH could have followed up on this and obtained the call records directly from the cell phone carrier themselves, WITHOUT Amanda Marsh’s ‘permission’, but they did not.

      >> Sonny also said…
      >>
      >> Whew this omission of that camera of Chris.

      It wasn’t until August 19, 2013, that ADOSH was first ‘informed’ that Christopher MacKenzie’s camera had been recovered, and that there were both PHOTOS and VIDEOS on it that survived the burnover… even though ADOSH had ALREADY requested all photos and videos from the SAIT that they had in their possession related to the Yarnell incident.

      JIm Karels, Mike Dudley and the SAIT had CHOSEN to NOT supply ADOSH with the Christopher MacKenzie photos and videos… and it wasn’t until this interview with Darrell Willis where he ‘let it slip’ that the MacKenzie material existed that ADOSH first found out about it.

      The first ADOSH heard of this ‘evidence’ was when it ‘came out’ during the first or their two interviews with Darrell Willis.

      Here is the part of that interview where Darrell Wills first ‘surprises’ them with the information about Christopher MacKenzie’s camera.

      NOTE, however, that Darrell Willis now tells a completely different story about where Christopher MacKenzie’s camera was ‘discovered’.

      The autopsy reports just released reveal that Christopher MacKenzie’s camera was discovered right along with his other personal effects at the start of his autopsy examination at the Maricopa County Medical examiner’s office ( and it was even documented as ‘still working by the Medical Examiners )… but it was then NOT given to the YCSO police officers who were also there and ‘entered into evidence’ on July 2 at the ME’s office the way all ‘electronic devices’ were SUPPOSED to be.

      In his ADOSH testimony, Willis is trying to tell them that Christopher’s camera was somehow ‘accidentally’ discovered somewhere ( at the site? ) by ‘The Sheriff’, who mistook it for a ‘burned up phone’ and then it was just ‘sent home to the parents’ and never entered the evidence chain.

      NOTE also the other ‘flaw’ in this story.

      If the Sheriff himself even thought it was just a ‘burned up phone’… then he knew very well that it was STILL supposed to be entered into evidence like all the other phones being recovered from that incident, and NOT just ‘sent to the parents’ and BYPASS the ‘chain of evidence’ in the case.

      Q1 = Barry Hicks, ADOSH investigator
      A = Darrell Willis, Prescott Wildland Division Chief and SPGS2 at Yarnell
      ——————————————————————————————–
      1293 Q1: And you never heard any conversation with – between Granite or Eric and air
      1294 attack saying we’re moving, um, and now there was a – there was a text
      1295 message from one of the Granite Mountain Hotshots to I believe it was to a
      1296 mother wasn’t it?
      1297
      1298 A: Yeah. Wade Parker.
      1299
      1300 Q1: It says, “We see structures that need to be protected.” And do you remember
      1301 what time that was?
      1302
      1303 A: I’m thinking it was after 4:00 o’clock. Yeah. I think it was 4:04 or somewhere
      1304 in there. I’ve – I’ve heard about that. I’ve seen some, ah, pictures that were
      1305 about the same time. We got some pictures from a camera that was
      1306 MacKenzie. The Sheriff picked it up and he thought it was a burned up phone.
      1307 They sent it home with the parents. Dad took it down to Walgreens. They
      1308 pulled the sim card out of it and they found a whole bunch of pictures out of
      1309 it.
      1310
      1311 Q1: Oh really? Oh.
      1312
      1313 A: And it was some of these pictures. In fact, there’s some video there of where
      1314 the fire was sitting at this time. Almost the exact same as Parker’s.
      1315
      1316 Q1: At about the same time?
      1317
      1318 A: Mm-hm.
      1319
      1320 Q1: Um, did the – did the video show anything different from…
      1321
      1322 A: Not really. You could just see that line of fire coming back to the South.
      1323
      1324 Q1: Mm-hm. Um, so your – your best guess is they see the structures down there
      1325 and they figure they need to go….
      1326
      1327 A: And they had the time and the distance.
      1328
      1329 Q1: Figured.
      1330
      1331 A: They figured. I – I don’t know that. Only Eric can tell you that. And Jesse.
      ————————————————————————————–

      • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

        Followup…

        >> Sonny said…
        >>
        >> I understand that record can be obtained through
        >> the cell companies.

        There is a document in the body of evidence that the SAIT eventually released which shows SAIT Co-Lead Jim Karels communicating DIRECTLY ( via FAX ) with ‘Verizon Wireless’, just 11 days after the tragedy, and requesting information for no less than 26 ( TWENTY-SIX ) different cell phone numbers… and in the specific TIME range of 1300 to 1645 (1:00 pm to 4:45 pm) on June 30, 2013.

        That document is sitting in the following folder in the online SAIT Dropbox…

        / SAIT / Correspondence /

        Here is an actual link to that ‘Correspondence’ folder in the InvestigativeMEDIA SAIT Dropbox…

        https://www.dropbox.com/sh/02ue6bnjp6nazkm/AADnlV4xKqQwhwgzoVcD2jNqa/Correspondence?dl=0

        There is only one FILE in that folder and its NAME is…

        A01-A04 – ASF000001-INV to 8-INV.PDF

        That’s the SAIT document that contains a copy of this FAX communication between SAIT Co-Lead Jim Karels and Verizon Wireless.

        The 26 ( TWENTY-SIX ) separate phone numbers that Jim Karels was ‘inquiring’ about are REDACTED in this document.

        On PDF page 2 of that document…
        ————————————————————–
        FAX TRANSMITTAL

        TO: Verizon Wireless

        FROM: Jim Karels, SAI Team Leader

        DATE: July 11, 2013

        The Arizona State Forester has delegated authority to me to lead a Serious Accident Investigation into the deaths of 19 firefighters on the Yarnell Hill Fire. In that capacity, I am requesting preservation of the RTTs for the following cell phone numbers from 1300 to 1645 (1:00 pm to 4:45 pm) on June 30, 2013:

        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx
        xxx-xxxx | xxx-xxxx

        If you have questions, you may contact me at 850-228-7763 or Randy Okon at 406-531-1570. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.
        ————————————————————–

        NOTE: The fact that Jim Karels ( SAIT Co-Lead ) was specifically requesting Verizon Wireless to ‘preserve the RTTs’ for all 26 of those cell phone numbers does NOT automatically mean he was, at that time, requesting Verizon to send him the CALL RECORDS for all 26 of those numbers.

        In telecommunications lingo, RTT is usually referring to ‘Round Trip Time’ and it’s a packet based thing.

        ‘Round Trip Time’ is the length of time it takes for a signal to be sent plus the length of time it takes for an acknowledgment of that signal to be received. This time delay therefore consists of the propagation times between the two points of a signal.

        On cellular networks… these RTTs are recorded (digitally) whenever the phone is active and they CAN be used to help determine the LOCATION of a phone… but they are not necessarily involved withe the CALL RECORDS.

        There is no other public document in the evidence record that shows any further communication(s) between Jim Karel’s and Verizon Wireless…

        …but this one document alone shows that the SAIT really WAS very much interested in the ‘cellular network records’ of at least 26 different ‘cell phone numbers’.

        If they ( Mike Dudley, Jim Karels and the SAIT ) ever eventually obtained CALL RECORDS for any of these 26 numbers there were ‘interested’ in… there is ( as yet ) no public record of it.

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