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10 Ways Arizona's Scorching Summer Heat Can Kill You

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Once again, Arizona's searing summer sun has turned deadly. 

Over this past weekend, record-breaking heat across the state claimed the lives of at least four hikers. On Sunday, temperatures reached 118 degrees, melting Phoenix's previous record for the date (115 degrees, set in 1968), and making Sunday the fifth-hottest day on record at Sky Harbor Airport. 

On Saturday, a 25-year-old man died hiking on the Peralta Trail near Gold Canyon. And on Sunday morning, a 28-year-old personal trainer perished on a hike at the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Just outside of Tucson, a third hiker died near Finger Rock Canyon and a fourth in Ventana Canyon.

Across the nation, more individuals die from heat-related illness than all other natural disasters combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC found that from 1999 to 2009, Arizona, California, and Texas accounted for approximately 40 percent of all heat-related deaths in the United States. CDC data indicates that heat deaths in Arizona far outpace those in Texas and California on a per-capita basis.

In Arizona alone — where summer temperatures regularly soar upward of 110 degrees — more than 1,500 people died of heat exposure between 2000 and 2012, according to a report from the Arizona Department of Health Services. About 95 percent of the deaths occurred between May and September. 

There are a myriad of ways heat exposure can lead to death. These are 10 true stories of people who fell victim to Phoenix's fiery serial killer: the sun. 

1. Hiking in the Heat
On July 9, 2015, a man and his grandson were found dead in the desert near the small town of Gila Bend. Thomas Gillespie, 63, and his 12-year-old grandson Robby Miller had been hiking and taking pictures on the Mormon Battalion Trail outside Gila Bend, just off Interstate 8 on Arizona State Route 85.

When the two didn't return home, Miller's mom called police. The next day, sheriff's deputies discovered Gillespie's car on State Route 238. The bodies of Gillespie and Miller were soon located on the trail. 

Investigators believe the pair walked about five or six miles before turning back toward the trailhead. Gillespie collapsed within a half-mile of the turnaround point. Miller, who had his grandfather's keys with him, was found more than a mile from the trailhead where Gillespie had died.

Investigators said they believe Gillespie, a Tucson native, succumbed to the elements and Miller died while seeking help.

No food, water, or cell phone was discovered near either of the bodies.

2. Hiking Camelback Mountain in the Heat
In late May 2014, 23-year-old Seattle tourist Eric Fernandes purchased a hydration backpack and a couple of small bottles of Vitamin Water before setting out to hike Camelback Mountain's rugged Echo Canyon Trail.

After hours of hiking in temperatures soaring upward of 108 degrees that afternoon, Fernandes reached Camelback's 2,704-foot peak. At the top, another hiker noticed that Fernandes looked tired and very sweaty. It was the last time anyone would see him alive.

Three days later, hikers found his body wedged between two large rocks in a crevice about 500 feet below the summit on the mountain's southwestern face.

The medical examiner determined that Fernandes "likely developed an elevated core temperature that led to unconsciousness and ultimately death."

Police discovered that the Seattle resident was not fully prepared for the hike. While Fernandes had purchased a hydration pack, he didn’t fill it with water or use it during the hike. Detectives believe he took the two bottles of Vitamin Water he had purchased, but no bottles were found near the body.

Fernandes was not the first hiker to underestimate the rugged terrain of Camelback Mountain — Phoenix's highest point above the city. Both hiking trails used to ascend to the mountaintop — the Echo Canyon Trail and the Cholla Trail — are considered strenuous, owing to their steep grades.

Camelback Mountain's scenic beauty conceals a deadly past. In the past few years, there have been at least six deaths on the mountain, and many other hikers have had to be rescued. Most accidents on the mountain occur from heat exhaustion or dehydration.

On July 7, 2015, a British mother was overcome by the intense summer heat after reaching the summit. Ravinder Takhar, 48, was on vacation with her husband and children when she fell into a ravine and died.

Earlier this month, on June 14, the body of 56-year-old Stephen Vanderhoeven, also British, was found on Camelback Mountain near the Cholla Trail. Vanderhoeven is thought to have been hunting for chuckwallas.

3. Stranded in the Desert 
Following a car crash, Mai Vo Bor, 37, walked for hours through the blistering Arizona desert seeking help for her injured parents.

It was June 18, 2012, and Bor was on vacation with her family from California when they got into a single-vehicle crash half a mile south of Interstate 10 and 411th Avenue in Tonopah.

At 6 o'clock that morning, Bor left the wreckage to find help. Two hours later, the broken-down vehicle and her elderly Vietnamese parents — who did not speak English — were spotted by a passerby who called for help.

It wasn't until the parents were taken to West Valley Hospital in Goodyear, nearly 40 miles away, that an interpreter understood their story. That's when the county sheriff learned about the couple's missing daughter.

By the time deputies discovered Bor, she had succumbed to the elements. Her naked body was found about a mile from the crash. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office believed she had been out in the sun for more than eight hours.

4. Trapped in a Car 
On July 13, 2010, while his mother was studying for a test, 3-year-old Jaden Pennington snuck outside and crawled into the front seat of the family's Chevrolet Cobalt.

About 30 minutes later, April Carpenter, 25, frantically searched the house and discovered her son unconscious in the car. The boy was pronounced dead at a hospital, with a recorded core temperature of 108 degrees.

Tragically, Pennington was just one of 49 children to die of exposure in a hot car that year.

Vehicular heatstroke is the number-one cause of death in non-collision fatalities for children 14 and younger, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Since 1998, 668 children have died nationwide as a result of adults leaving them in a vehicle. In the majority of cases, the caregiver forgot to remove the child from the car.

According to data compiled by the nonprofit KidsandCars.org, Arizona ranks among the top five states for these fatalities.

5. Locked in an Outdoor Prison Cell
Marcia Powell, 48, died in Goodyear's Perryville Prison on May 20, 2009, after being locked in a cage in the blazing Arizona sun.

Despite prison policy limiting outside confinement to two hours, Powell was kept locked up for at least four hours. While roasting in the heat, she repeatedly asked corrections officers for water, to be taken back inside, or to be allowed to use the restroom but her pleas were ignored, according to a report from the Arizona Department of Corrections.

As temperatures soared upward of 107 degrees, Powell, who was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution, collapsed. She was found unconscious and covered with excrement from soiling herself.

Powell was transported to West Valley Hospital, where she died. The medical examiner found the cause of death to be complications from heat exposure. Powell's core temperature was 108 degrees and she had burns and blisters all over her body.

The department of corrections recommended that the seven corrections officers on duty that day be charged with negligent homicide in connection with Powell's death. But the county prosecutor found there was not enough evidence to prosecute them and did not to pursue criminal charges. Sixteen prison employees were sanctioned or fired as a result of Powell's death.

The outdoor cages are still used at the prison but are now equipped to provide shade, misters, water fountains, and benches.

A film about Powell, No Human Involved, recently had its premiere.

6. On the Streets
The body of Ruben Lopez, 47, was discovered on a grassy patch of land near the vehicle where he lived. Richard Pacheco, 52, died shortly after fire officials responded to a report of a man vomiting along a road.

Both men were homeless. Both men were found on July 17, 2005.

Lopez and Pacheco were just two of hundreds of homeless people to perish in the Arizona heat. 

Amid the blistering heat wave that engulfed Phoenix in July 2005, more than 30 people died during a two-week period. The majority of the victims were homeless, their bodies found on dirt lots, in vehicles, and between buildings.

During that July, temperatures exceeded 100 degrees in Phoenix for weeks on end, with 14 days that month recording highs of 110 degrees or more.

Today, more than 8,000 men, women, and children live in shelters and on Arizona streets, where they are particularly susceptible to heat-related deaths in the summer.

Local shelters have launched programs to protect the homeless when temperatures turn dangerous.

7. Sweat Lodge
In October 2009, motivational speaker and self-help guru James Arthur Ray hosted a New Age Spiritual Warrior retreat at the Angel Valley Retreat Center in Yavapai County near Sedona.

The attendees, who had paid up to $10,000 to participate, fasted for 36 hours during what was proclaimed to be a "vision quest." While fasting, participants were left alone in the Arizona desert with a sleeping bag.

The next morning, October 8, 2009, the group ate a large buffet breakfast before entering a nontraditional structure built out of tarps, branches, and blankets to form a makeshift sweat lodge.

During the sweat lodge ceremony, dozens of participants began feeling sick, vomiting, and collapsing. Ray urged the attendees to push past their physical weaknesses and shamed those who wanted to leave, according to authorities.

James Shore, 40, and Kirby Brown, 38, succumbed to heat exposure. Liz Neuman, 49, another attendee, died of organ failure on October 17, after being comatose for a week owing to the extreme heat exposure. Eighteen others were hospitalized after suffering burns, dehydration, breathing problems, kidney failure, or elevated body temperature.

On February 3, 2010, Ray was arrested on three counts of negligent homicide. He was later found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.

Ray was released under supervision on July 12, 2013. Since then he has remained tight-lipped about the deaths and has attempted to rebuild his career as a motivational speaker

8. Crossing the Border 
Mexican resident Enrique Landeros Garcia, 30, desperately wanted to cross the border to America to make a better life for his wife, Octavia Fabian, 23, and son Alexis.

Fabian didn't want him to go, but Landeros was determined. A coyote charged him $1,700, money he didn't have, to escort him across the border. Landeros, who was from the coffee village of San Pedro Altepepan, arranged for a loan, payable upon employment.

But he would never make it to the United States.

Landeros was one of 14 immigrants to perish crossing the border in May 2001. Their bodies were discovered on May 24, 2001.

Landeros' smugglers abandoned his group in the blistering heat of the Arizona desert.

The tragedy, known locally as the "Yuma 14," remains one of the most sensational incidents of unlawful desert crossings.

Survivors said the group was smuggled across the border east of Yuma, through the rugged terrain of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The smugglers left the group there, promising to return with water and directions to a highway nearby.

The smugglers never returned. And the highway was more than 50 miles from where they were abandoned.

As temperatures climbed as high as 115 degrees, sunburned survivors found agents and sought help.

The bodies of the men who perished were discovered about 25 miles from the Mexican border. The 14 dead immigrants, all of whom succumbed to exposure, made up the largest group of border-crossers to die in Arizona in more than 20 years.

Since 2001, more than 2,100 migrants have died beneath the Arizona sun.

9. Construction Work
Mark Geise, 44, was working on a construction crew, building a propane-filling station at a Costco store in Tucson, when he collapsed suddenly on June 19, 2012.

Geise, a father of four, had complained of heat-related symptoms before going into cardiac arrest. A bystander attempted CPR while another worker called 911. But all attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Geise's death was determined to be related to the extreme heat that day.

Roofing, landscaping, agricultural, and construction workers are particularly at risk for heat-related illness and death.

Since 2003, heat exposure has killed an average of 30 outdoor workers annually.

10. No Air-Conditioning 
On June 19, 2014, a Phoenix man in his 60s was found dead in his home, which was without a functioning air conditioner.

The man, who was not identified, reportedly suffered from underlying health conditions. But the lack of a working air conditioner led to his immediate cause of death, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Investigators never determined why the man’s air conditioner wasn't working.

Public health officials were quick to remind residents that air conditioners are no luxury in Arizona. They're a necessity.

The elderly are particularly at risk for heat-related illness. 

To stay safe and cool this summer, the Arizona Department of Health Services recommends that residents drink at least two liters of water a day, dress properly, and avoid strenuous activity. It doesn't hurt to carry a supply of water in your car.

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