Search for second individual lost near Virgin River Gorge ends with discovery of remains near Bloomington

2018 file photo of a Washington County Sheriff's Office vehicle, St. George, Utah, Jan. 30, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The remains of a local man were found in a remote area east of Bloomington Friday, a tragic end to a multi-day search between two states set in motion when a woman who was found in Mohave County, Arizona told officers the man was missing after the two were separated in the wilderness days before.

Pin depicts the Val Wash, an area several miles east of Bloomington where man’s remains were located, Washington County, Utah | Image courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

The search for 39-year-old Steven Richins ended Friday afternoon when Washington County Search and Rescue ground teams found his remains in one of the drainage areas near the Val Wash, more than 7 miles southwest of Bloomington in Washington County, Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Nate Abbott said.

Rescuers had been searching for the man since Wednesday night after a woman he was reportedly with was found lying below a bridge in Arizona near I-15 at mile marker 22, a few miles south of the Cedar Pocket Exit. The woman was found to be “in bad shape,” Trooper Thomas Callister with Arizona Department of Public Safety, told St. George News later that same day.

Prior to being transported to the hospital, the woman told troopers she and Richins were hiking near the Virgin River and became separated and she had not seen him for a few days. Her account of events was marred by the fact that she was suffering from acute exposure and appeared very disoriented while speaking to troopers, which left authorities with little to work with when a search for the man was initiated.

Mohave County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue teams were brought in and began searching for Richins shortly after the woman was transported to the hospital. They were joined by an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter that assisted by air. Washington County authorities were also notified, deploying search teams to make a sweep of the area until the operation was called off once it became too dark to continue. Washington County Search and Rescue efforts were scheduled to resume the following morning.

2019 file photo of Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team responding to a call in Washington County, Utah, May 2019 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, St. George News

On Thursday, an airplane flying over an area near Old Apex Mine Road spotted a vehicle that appeared to be abandoned, which is when authorities learned the car was involved in a pursuit that began in Santa Clara and continued into Ivins late Monday night. The chase was terminated several minutes later near the Shivwitz convenience store on Old Highway 91.

Authorities also learned that the woman who had been found was driving when the incident took place, but that neither she nor her passenger was heard from until the woman was rescued by Arizona DPS troopers two days later and told authorities that her boyfriend was still missing.

The initial search yielded no results, but the following day, the woman was able to provide rescuers with additional details on the route the couple took once they left the car on foot, as her condition had improved and she was able to recollect the details more clearly.

By backtracking from the abandoned vehicle to where the woman was located two days later, rescuers on all-terrain vehicles and side-by-sides began searching in areas surrounding the vehicle and then worked their way out as they checked drainage ditches, slot canyons and other remote areas along the route the couple likely took several days before.

“They used high-vantage points along the route so they could see,” Abbott said.

On Friday, rescuers flew drones across the area and while ground teams continued the search on foot, and using more detailed information provided, by that afternoon, authorities were notified that “a deceased male had been found” by a ground team that came upon the remains in a flat area near the Val Wash west of Bloomington.

Google Map with pins depicting distance between where woman was found in Mohave County, Ariz., and man was found in Washington County, Utah, | Image courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

The official cause of death is currently under investigation, Abbott said, but detectives have found no evidence of foul play and there was nothing that indicated Richin’s death was caused by anything other than exposure and dehydration.

Abbott also said it was likely the man was already deceased by the time the woman was found in Arizona Wednesday afternoon.

“We don’t have an official time of death at this point,” Abbott said. “But, we believe he died and was out there for several days before he was found.”

The remains were sent to the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy to determine the cause of death and possibly narrow down a time of death.

The body was found less than 3 miles from where the vehicle became stuck in Washington County several nights before, while the woman was found off of Interstate 15, roughly 7 miles south of the Utah-Arizona border in Mohave County, a variance that has led authorities to believe the couple became separated within hours of leaving the vehicle.

From there, in pitch darkness and unable to see where they were going, they lost track of each other and Richin started walking east toward Bloomington, which was still several miles away. Without a water source, he could have become more disoriented as he went along.

Meanwhile, the woman came upon the Virgin River, and then followed it into Arizona as she continued south until she was rescued two days later.

The investigation remains open and detectives are still interviewing witnesses and are awaiting the results of the autopsy.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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