Police investigating death of man in Zion National Park after he reportedly drove off 70-foot embankment

Undated photo of Kahlil Smith. Smith was found dead in Zion National Park on May 11, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Lea Smith, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The National Park Service and Washington County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the death of a man in Zion National Park who authorities say drove off an embankment on Kolob Canyon Scenic Drive and was later found dead by the county search and rescue team. In a statement, the park service said foul play is not suspected in the death of the man.

Undated photo of Kahlil Smith, left, while he was in the Navy. Smith was found dead in Zion National Park on May 11, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Lea Smith, St. George News

The man’s mother identified him as 26-year-old Kahlil Smith. Lea Smith said authorities told her that Kahlil was found hanging by a belt from a tree. St. George News has independently confirmed that authorities reported finding Smith hanging by a belt around his neck.

The park’s statement said that at 2:13 p.m. on Tuesday, park dispatch received a call that a vehicle drove off the embankment of the road, located on the western side of Zion National Park, and rolled 70 feet down below. Authorities said the driver was the only passenger and a witness saw him leave the vehicle after the crash and head further into the park, where he was later found by crews from Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue. 

The statement said that the driver was alone and “there is no evidence to suggest that anyone else was involved.” 

The park’s statement reads, “We urge anyone considering suicide to reach out for help” and provides the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK

General map of the Kolob Canyon Scenic Drive to the east of Interstate 15 on the western edge of Zion National Park. | Photo via Google Maps, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The man’s mother, a Maryland resident, expressed disbelief that her son would commit suicide.

“They said he got out and walked to a tree, hung himself with his own belt,” Lea Smith told St. George News of her son, whose 27th birthday was coming up on Aug. 8. “I don’t know how he ended up in Utah. I know for a fact that my son would never kill himself. He loved himself too much. He loved himself.”

Smith said she would commonly have six-hour conversations on the phone with her son and had just spoken to him last week. 

Smith said her son, who had been going to school in Oakland, California, to be a hairdresser, told her he was going to travel to visit a friend in San Diego and might have been planning a side trip to Las Vegas.

Undated photo of Kahlil Smith, right, and his mother. | Photo courtesy of Lea Smith, St. George News

She said she wasn’t concerned that she hadn’t heard from her son while he was traveling.

“He’s 26 years old. You know, they call mom only when they, you know, want or need something or just to check in,” Lea Smith said

She was concerned when he didn’t call for Mother’s Day.

“We got into an argument about a couple of weeks ago and he called to apologize and I told him, ‘OK, I accept your apology, and we’ll talk later,’” Lea Smith said. “That was the last time I talked to him and I thought, for sure, he was going to call me on Mother’s Day. I thought for sure, and I didn’t hear from him.”

After playing football in high school and college, Smith said Kahlil joined the Navy. However, Lea Smith said he was later discharged with mental health issues. 

“He used to have high anxiety, and so they gave him a general discharge,” Smith, a military veteran herself, said.

The National Park Service said the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has taken the lead in the investigation and it is ongoing.


If you or someone you know is in danger because of suicidal thoughts or actions, call 911 immediately. Suicide is an emergency that requires help by trained medical professionals and should always be treated seriously.

Nationwide suicide hotlines, 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) and 1-800-273-TALK (8255), have counselors available 24/7. The Southwest Behavioral Health Center also offers help for Southern Utah residents; call 800-574-6763 or 435-634-5600.

Other resources include Suicide.org, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Association of Suicidology. All provide comprehensive information and help on the issue of suicide, from prevention to treatment to coping with loss.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!