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GPS blamed in RVer’s death

Earlier this week we wrote about RVers Ronnie and Bev Barker. The Indiana couple went missing, along with their motorhome, on a trip from Oregon to Arizona. As we posted, the couple were lost and stranded in the desert hills of Nevada. Since that initial post, more details have come into focus regarding the Barker’s tragic final trip together. Now it seems the couple’s GPS is taking some of the blame for the tragic outcome.

“SOS”

When searchers found the Barker’s motorhome on Tuesday, April 6, it was abandoned, stuck in the sand on a desert road. The family’s toad car, a Kia, was gone, presumably used by the couple after the motorhome got stuck. Searchers then worked on following the intermittent tracks left on the dusty roadway. After a couple of hours, they heard a car horn. It was signaling out “SOS.” The Barkers were found.

Beverly Barker was sitting in the front seat of the Kia, following some of the last instructions her husband, Ronnie, had given. With their cell phones out of range, he had told her to keep tooting the horn. Three short, three long, three short. Repeat.

GPS was their guide

Bev Barker was airlifted to a Reno hospital, and was able to physically recover in a fairly short time. She was able to speak to the details of their disastrous trip. On Sunday, March 27, they had been heading south out of Coaldale, Nevada, a small community on U.S. Highway 95. Their motorhome’s GPS was their guidance system, and neither Ronnie nor Bev had any qualms about following the instructions it gave. One post by a family member suggests that a setting on the GPS allowed for off-highway direction. His feeling was this was where the problem really set in.

The Barkers continued on following the GPS’ directions. After her rescue, Bev Barker commented that the couple had seen other vehicles, including at least one motorhome, and so felt comfortable with where they were headed. That is, apparently, until the motorhome got stranded in sand that night. With no cell service, Ronnie and Bev decided their best course of action was to get up on Monday, the next morning, disconnect the toad car, and use it to go find help to get the motorhome freed from the sand.

Agonizing days

On Monday, March 28, that’s exactly what the Barkers did. They got into the Kia and headed off down the road in what they hoped was the direction that would get them help. Instead, just about two miles from the motorhome, their toad car, too, got stuck in sand—and they were still out of cell phone range.

What followed were several agonizing days. Neither Ronnie nor Bev was in particularly good health. Ronnie was a cancer survivor, and both he and Bev were diabetics. They hadn’t thought to take blankets nor food or water with them when they left the motorhome. With temperatures in the 20s by night, it didn’t take long for Ronnie to fall seriously ill.


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Staving off the inevitable

The Barkers’ nephew, Travis Peters, related some of the details his aunt shared with him of the ordeal. His story was published as an interview by WTHR, a TV station in the Barker’s hometown of Indianapolis.

“As the days and the nights passed, my Uncle Ronnie told her he was dying. And she said, ‘I know.’ They knew it was dehydration,” Peters said. To try and stave off the seeming inevitable, Bev, who is limited to the use of a wheelchair or walker, managed to get out of the car and up a hillside. There, using bags, she was able to collect winter snow, bring it back to the car, and melt it for the two to share.

Sadly, despite the water from snow, time was getting the upper hand. Travis Peters relates, “All along, he would ask her to read the Bible and he finally passed away Monday.” Just two days later, rescuers heard Bev’s repeated SOS horn toots and found the couple, still together in their Kia.

A gofundme page has been established to help the family with expenses.

##RVT1047b

 

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Steve A
2 months ago

Such a heartbreaking tragedy. Prayers to the family.
All GPS are computer / chip / memory based. Before leaving on a trip: clear memory, clear history, reboot to refresh phones, tablets, laptops, Garmins, etc, etc. Mapping uses up resources like crazy and will become unreliable. If you’re traveling into remote areas or along the Mexico border, take a satellite phone or messaging device with you. Let people know your planned route. Ask about areas on RV / Travel forums to get experienced advice. Call State Police ahead of time to inquire about areas (like along the Mexico border).

Sharon B
2 months ago

What a horrible tragedy. I had used the Google maps for years until one day suddenly it changed. I did not change anything on the app. What should have been a 25 minute turnpike drive took was out of the way not even using the turnpike that was the easiest way. It directed me so far out of the way through neighborhoods that I have never been through it was just crazy. That simple trip took me well over an hour out of my way. I did nothing to change anything in the app. I now use WAZE and would not change that for anything. It is easy and precise. However, things can happen and once I did go to the wrong address. Still can’t figure that one out.
So sorry for that couple. But if I was taken to dirt-sandy roads I would have turned around.
Apple Maps also messed me up one day so I guess none of these direction finders are 100%.

Stanley Sokolow
2 months ago

A satellite communicator could have saved his life. My Garmin inReach goes with me on all trips.

Bob Weinfurt
2 months ago

In my first experience with a GPS, it mapped out a route that added about 250 extra miles to our destination. I do just fine using a paper map. GPS frisbee anyone?

Judy zumwalt
2 months ago

Didn’t read ALL the comments, but if no one else mentioned it: you can dial 911 on your cell phone even if you have no service! we are guides with an atv jamboree in Utah and have actually used this to summon emergency help out in the boondocks (accident. required Life Flight) where there was NO cell service!

Joe Kyle
2 months ago
Reply to  Judy zumwalt

Not quite true. If you truly have no coverage, then no, a 911 call will not go through. What does work is if you have, say, T-Mobile, and there is no T-Mobile coverage but their is AT&T coverage, then yes, you should be able to make an emergency / 911 call using AT&T even through you don’t have service with AT&T. Here is a more detailed explanation: https://www.scienceabc.com/innovation/how-can-mobile-phones-make-emergency-calls-when-theres-no-network-coverage.html

Snayte
2 months ago
Reply to  Judy zumwalt

If you do not have an active service plan this is true. They were in an area where there was no cell signal. It is impossible to make any type of call under those conditions.

Sharon B
2 months ago
Reply to  Snayte

If there is no signal that means no connection so no 911. There are items for hiking with a 911 for emergencies. There are hand held direction finders that have an emergency frequency with monthly fees. I believe they are satellite.

Patty
2 months ago

Bless their hearts. I think at sometime it doesn’t matter the age or the knowledge of driving a RV, car, truck etc.. I clearly do not see this couple with so many health issues driving. This could have been avoided. Be thankful that they didn’t have a accident involving other people. We bought into an over 50 RV park in Southfork Colorado years ago, and we were watching this 80 year old man park his 40 plus foot class A and he did a great job. Once he got out he could barely walk, talk, or stand up. And I asked him where did you drive in from today and he said San Antonio, Texas. End of story.

Lawrence Neely
2 months ago

It’s not totally the GPS. I have been 4 wheeling since the 1990’s (before GPS). The maps I used a lot of times would indicate a drivable road and I would see non 4 wheel vehicles driving on the road which at the beginning said 4 wheel drive or high clearance recommended. People would say the map indicated it was drivable. I have even written some of the mapping companies about the particular roads. They are city folks who live in an office building looking at satellite pictures and digitizing roads in to maps. They do not get them right all the time. Even now I still get sent off on some wierd roads even if I am not looking for a 4 wheel drive road following the GPS/maps in my truck. Since I have 4 wheel drive (and lifted truck) I can get back out (or go enjoy). do not trust hard maps or GPS drawn maps (even forest maps can be wrong)

Fed up
2 months ago
Reply to  Lawrence Neely

Gps told me make sharp right which was on a bridge
Over a gorge with a river nope stop listening to it and got out the atlas map. Book.

Diane Mc
2 months ago

Lots of interest in this topic, for obvious reasons. Maybe someone on the RV Travel staff could research & review “locator” systems and publish it in a future issue.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
2 months ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

Hi, Diane. Here’s a link to an article Dave Helgeson wrote about this topic last summer: “Camper’s death could have been prevented with a satellite messenger. Don’t let it happen to you!” https://www.rvtravel.com/campers-death-prevented-satellite-messenger-save-life/ Dave not only writes for us, and runs some of the local RV shows (like the Seattle RV Show), but he’s also a very longtime boondocker as well as a member of the local search and rescue. So this is some good information from him. Take care. 🙂 –(another) Diane

Diane Mc
2 months ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Thank you. Should have known & done a search🙄

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
2 months ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

You’re welcome, Diane. I had thought about putting a link in the article but changed my mind because I didn’t think it was appropriate. Such a very tragic story. But I think responding to a comment about it is ok, so thank you. Have a good night. 🙂 –Diane

Ed W.
2 months ago

It is truly sad what happened to those folks. I think every one of us has made mistakes from time to time and I do not find fault with them. All gps units should be equipped with a lock out control on certain features like “avoid highways” or “avoid tolls” that might take people off main roads.

We belong to AAA and carry maps of any area we intend to travel. We stick to paved highways and would never allow any gps to send us off pavement. And if we can’t see the pavement on a main highway (ie. snow), we have no business being there in the first place imo.

Our newest truck came equipped with garmin in the dash. But, because we can’t speak to it, we find it inconvenient for navigation, though it displays a very usable map. Consequently, we use google maps from our phones for navigation via android auto cast onto our screen. Yes, you have to pay attention to where you are going and verify if turn instructions don’t look quite right.

Irene
2 months ago
Reply to  Ed W.

Google maps and other forms of finding your way are useless when in an rv or towing a travel trailer. They don’t indicate roads with low bridges, or where RVs or propane are not allowed, like tunnels (or the wrong directions … ended up on snowmobile track and needless side trips that came right back out on the main road I was on originally) etc. I found that out on a trip to NY city! There is a tunnel that goes from Chincoteague to Virginia that I have checked out that says RVs and propane are ok so long as the propane is turned off. I hope that is correct as otherwise I will have to backtrack quite a distance to be able to get to SC. I am plotting out the trip using Google maps on my computer, then using the trucker’s map book to check the routes it is sending me on…I already see something labelled “Parkway” – with NO NAME – so I have to assume that it is like other parkways that don’t allow RVs. I always check a map before trip even in my car.

Jack
2 months ago
Reply to  Irene

In the 50’s parkways were built so drivers could drive down a long peaceful road lined with trees. Cars were not as numerous and after the WWII and Korean conflict, people were still accustomed to not driving but walking and public transportation due to gas rationing during the conflict times. But as families grew in populated areas, the parkways and other main roads became glutted with vehicles during morning and afternoon rush traffic hours, The beltways (main roads around cities) were built to reduce through traffic (and traffic jams) through the cities, However, they are clogged even longer during the day due to the higher volume of vehicles.

Celeste
2 months ago

About 10 years ago, I followed the directions of a GPS, which caused me to end up in a blizzard, at night, on one of the most treacherous mountain passes in Oregon, with no place to turn around. I had to drive by observing the magenta line on the GPS monitor because I could barely see the road.
Needless to say, I will never put 100% confidence in a GPS again, and will utilize a good old-fashioned map in addition to the GPS before venturing into unfamiliar territory. It’s important to be mindful of GPS limitations, and make sure you know your route before heading out. Getting input from other RV’ers is a valuable resource as well.

Jeff Craig
2 months ago

An ounce of prevention saves 98 metric tons of cure. Always, and I can’t stress this enough, A-L-W-A-Y-S use Google Street View/Earth to double check a new route you are taking. When I first took US 93/SR318 from Twin Falls, ID to Vegas in 2016, I spent an hour clicking my way along that stretch, seeing the rise, fall and turns in the terrain.

Ironically, on a reverse route trip last month, RV Life Pro sent us the ‘long way’ through Caliente along US93 to Ely, bypassing SR318. We had cell coverage the whole way, mostly 5G, but our data service for Waze was garbage.

You should also go over the route with everyone who drives. My mistake on this last trip was not verifying what turns to make with the wife, as if we had a paper map or AAA ‘Trip-Tik’. This incident definitely makes me glad I have a Jeep as a ‘toad’, but I’m now going to put together a ‘go-bag’ for it, in case of emergencies for when we go on long trips. I don’t want to become a cautionary tale!

Last edited 2 months ago by Jeff Craig
Irene
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Craig

Unfortunately street view doesn’t allow you to see the signs, such as “no trucks/RVs/propane allowed”. Do you think RV Life Pro sent you that way because of a restriction on the way you went that you were unaware of? (Doesn’t seem possible, but asking because I am trying to find the most reliable GPS for RVs…)

Brenda
2 months ago

My husband can’t seem to live without his GPS. I use my iPhone and Google (before and during the trip). Usually I print out the directions or at least take a photo on my phone of the computer screen (in case I have no cell coverage, I can still see files).

We have on numerous occasions been sent in the wrong direction. Settings are different on our car vs. RV units (and even different brand GPS). As we get older, those things can be confusing.

While we still want to travel, we no longer take long trips alone. We travel in pairs. Sometimes one will venture off to see something not of interest to the other, but we always meet up for dinner or at the camp site and keep in touch so that if something happens, we have a head start at locating one another or can send help.

Having had several on-the-road medical emergencies as well, it is reassuring to know someone has your back.

Shirley Hopkins
2 months ago

I, too, have been in the same location where these folks made a bad decision based on their GPS navigator. US 95 was temporarily closed to repair earthquake damage and we were sent to Rt. 6 for a detour. We never found another detour sign to direct us back to 95, but our GPS wanted us to make a turn that looked sketchy to me. I decided we would just continue on to Bishop and take 395 north. All was well. Yesterday we were discussing this couple’s misadventures and I insisted the same could happen to us, because I do massive research before we travel, but then depend on GPS for turn by turn directions. Sure enough, on our way to a campground we had never been to before, we followed directions down a road that turned into dirt, and our “navigator” said we had arrived when we were in the middle of nowhere. It’s not easy turning a 41′ 5th wheel around, but we found an off road trail we could barely back into, got ourselves turned around, and found the campground using a different GPS.

e.pierce
2 months ago

Fish Lake Valley (Dyer, Nv) is to the west of the rescue site. Highways 6 runs east from the California border to Coaldale Junction and 95 from Fernley south to Tonopah, Lida Junction and Beatty/Las Vegas. I studied the back roads and *4×4 tracks* on caltopo.com to understand why their GPS would have put them at the rescue location the relative reported on the news:

…… “Red Mountain” Nevada

…… 37.757753, -117.809568

caltopo.com actually shows that location at the west base of “Silver Peak” (the mountain), which is about 5 “road” miles south of Cave Spring / Coyote Road, which runs between Fisk Lake Valley Hot Wells, a popular, free hot spring to the west, and the TOWN of “Silver Peak” to the east.

There is probably very limited or no cell signals in most of the area, away from paved roads, except MAYBE from peaks or high passes.

One horrifying possibility is that the GPS confused “Silver Peak” (the mountain) with “Silver Peak” (the town), about 10 miles apart.

e.pierce
2 months ago
Reply to  e.pierce

The “GPS” isn’t anymore to blame than a paper map that someone looks up upside down and goes the wrong way. There seems to be something strange about this story, leaving a major highway in the remote Nevada desert for unknown backroads, dirt roads and then 4×4 type jeep trails is very strange, IMO.

The road from Coaldale Junction to Fish Lake Valley (the Hot Wells and Dyer area) might have a few RVs, but I have a hard time imagining many RVs on the Cave Spring / Coyote Road (presumably dirt BLM road) that goes over an extremely remote mountain plateau and Coyote Pass to the east.

Turning off a dirt road like that onto what are presumably 4×4 jeep trails that led to the rescue location is even more incomprehensible.

caltopo.com (and google satellite maps) does show one or more 4×4/jeep trail connections to McAfee road to the south. McAfee road is probably a standard desert dirt road, not a 4×4 track/jeep trail, but I’m just guessing. It eventually leads south and east to Oasis Divide

e.pierce
2 months ago
Reply to  e.pierce

If they had made it to McAfee road and then to “Silver Peak – Oasis Divide” road, turning left would go north to the town of Silver Peak and a paved road to 95 south of Tonopah.

Turning right from McAfee road onto “Silver Peak – Oasis Divide” road leads south/SW to what appears to be “State Line” road and highway 266, but there are several other remote dirt roads that split away from “Silver Peak – Oasis Divide” road and go a little more east to the “town” of Lida or to Railroad Pass/Railroad Springs (also highway 266).

rvgrandma
2 months ago

I don’t have GPS nor have plans to ever get it. I know too many people, including RVers that it takes down dead end roads or way out of the way. Give me my paper map. If I need more details I can google to get them.

Edie Watson
2 months ago
Reply to  rvgrandma

Same here! I was driving my granddaughter and a friend to a volleyball meet, and my granddaughter held up my map and asked her friend if she knew what it was. They had a good laugh! My son’s GPS got me so lost in Boston (the city is laid out crazy from pioneer days) that I vowed I would never rely on one. I still print out paper directions. Works for me because I know I can trust myself!

Virginia
2 months ago
Reply to  rvgrandma

You can only Google if you have coverage. As we age, our rule is no dirt roads. Period. We will turn around and go down the road a ways, or take a longer route, to avoid off-roading.

Snayte
2 months ago
Reply to  Virginia

Actually you can download offline maps so that it can be used without having cell or Wifi service.

Suru
2 months ago

Such a sad story. As has happened to others, our GPS set itself to “Avoid Highways” when we were traveling through western Wyoming. Neither one of us were really paying attention, we just followed the verbal GPS directions. Then it started directing us to dirt roads which I knew was wrong. Eventually we found a truck stop and asked directions. We added at least an hour to our trip. I now take a map with us.

Cathy
2 months ago
Reply to  Suru

When avoiding any type of dirt road, should we have it set to avoid highways?
Or use highways?

Diane Mc
2 months ago

Double/triple check directions when going anywhere new, even well established RV parks. Just bought new Garmin to replace Rand McNally that isn’t updating their “Lifetime” maps anymore. Used both. Since we were traveling same winter route we always travel (CA to FL) it was interesting to see disparity between the 2. Took a page of notes on the Garmin that I need to send to them. Turning exits before needed. Turning left instead of right. There were more. The RM was more accurate than the Garmin except in one instance. On the way home had reservations at a new to us campground in Louisiana. It was 5 miles off interstate & went through farm areas w/lots of turns. Garmin was perfect. RM totally confused. However, we needed to visit a CAT service/parts dealer. Since it was so good at getting us to the RV park we took it with us. We had a nice tour of a number of towns in the Lafayette area. Ridiculous. Once we find the CAT place realize we were just a few miles from I-10.

John
2 months ago

I am not a huge fan of GPS. Especially, setting a destination and then just following it. I try to look at my route, on the computer, using Google Maps, so I know the general route and directions. I’ve always been very good with maps and directions, almost a second sense for it. Then if I am driving and following the GPS, as least I have an idea if it may be sending me astray. When I don’t take the time to do that, is when I have had problems.

Last edited 2 months ago by John
Snayte
2 months ago
Reply to  John

This is the key. Put your destination into your Garmin, Waze, or Google maps etc. then look at the route it has created. Make sure it makes sense and does not have you going down any questionable routes.

Robert Patrick McBride
2 months ago

Sad, what a tragedy. Those GPS’s can get you in trouble sometimes. Always take a bug out bag when you leave the main quarters in terrain like that.

Gene Bjerke
2 months ago

What is a GPS but a large database full of numbers from which it constructs a map. I can’t imagine the kind of program that can convert all those numbers into directions from Point A to Point B. The fact that it manages to do it most of the time amazes me. The fact that it gets it wrong occasionally should be no surprise at all. It never hurts to double-check once in a while.

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