25 Ways to Die in Arizona

Arizona's not for the weak of heart. It’s filled to the brim with dangerous creatures, killer heat, bad drivers, horrible diseases, freak accidents, raging wildfires, and raging psychopaths. Some of 'em are unique to our state. All of 'em could kill you. It’s definitely happened to plenty of others.

We’re not trying to scare you. We just want you to be fully aware of the many perils that exist here.

Here are 25 ways to die in Arizona:.

25. Get crushed by a saguaro

When you mess with Mother Nature, she might just strike back. Case in point: the 1982 death of David Grundman, a local hoodlum who was crushed by the enormous arm of a 27-foot saguaro near Lake Pleasant after he unloaded two shotgun blasts into the cactus. Fittingly, he posthumously scored a Darwin Award for the stunt.

24. Suffocate in a hot car

Being trapped in a hot car during Arizona’s summertime scorch isn’t ideal for any living creature, let alone a helpless child. And thanks to numbskull parents who shouldn’t have been breeding in the first place, kids perish every year after getting left alone to suffer one of the most horrible deaths imaginable.

23. Ski into a tree

In March 1997, Denise Sanders, the wife of former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Sanders, died after hitting a tree during a downhill run at Sunrise Ski Park in Greer. There hasn’t been another collision fatality at an Arizona ski facility since, as most deaths have been more ordinary, like the 22-year-old snowboarder who fell from a chairlift in 2011 or the 46-year-old California man who passed away from a pre-existing medical condition in January, both at Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff.

22. Get caught in a blinding dust storm

Whenever haboobs sweep through Arizona, the gargantuan dust storms tend to bring chaos along with all the dirt. And the dirt can be murder — especially on motorists. Visibility is reduced to zero, which has led to numerous fatal accidents along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix, including a 19-car pileup in 2013 that killed three.

21. Skydive with a faulty parachute

Jumping out of a plane always is a risky pursuit, since things can go very wrong, very fast. In the past six months alone, four skydivers have suffered tragic fates in Arizona, including three this year, after snafus with their parachutes. Even with those grim stats, however, it’s still safer than driving.

20. Get shot in hunting crossfire

Friendly fire is one of the biggest causes of hunting accidents in the state, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, as sportsmen occasionally misjudge people for quarry. In 1998, Flagstaff’s Todd Halfast was out hunting with three relatives when they flushed a herd of elk into a clearing, got separated, and began shooting. The crossfire killed the 38-year-old. Guess he should’ve worn better camo.

19. Suffer a heatstroke while hiking

A mix of too much heat and not enough water has proved a deadly combination for many hikers unprepared to endure Arizona’s trails in summer. Visitors and locals have been stricken, as illustrated by a two-day stretch last July when heat-related tragedies killed three people — a British tourist and a Valley grandfather and his 12-year-old grandson — at different mountain parks.

18. Fall into the Grand Canyon

Arizona’s biggest natural wonder is a magnificent sight to behold, but getting perilously close to the edge for a better view never is wise. An average of two to three Grand Canyon visitors fall to their deaths every year, typically after getting distracted, attempting jackass stunts, angling for the perfect photo-op, or simply slipping, as a Las Vegas man did in 2015.

17. From a gila monster bite

Don't let its normally docile nature and lumbering gait fool you. When provoked or mishandled, the venomous gila monster can unleash a powerful bite that causes excruciating pain and intense dizziness. Though fatalities are rare, a bite famously caused the death of a Casa Grande pool hall operator back in 1930.

16. Be mauled by a bear

In rural communities that encroach upon the wilderness, interactions between man and beast are common. In June 2011, such an encounter in Pinetop resulted a 61-year-old grandmother getting brutally attacked by a 250-pound black bear while out walking her dog at a country club. After enduring 11 surgeries, she succumbed to her injuries four weeks later.

15. From an attack of killer bees

Killer bees first swarmed into the state in 1993 and have been living up to their deadly sobriquet ever since. Dozens of Arizonans have been slain by viciously stinging swarms of the Africanized honeybees, including one nightmarish incident last November when 800,000 bees enveloped four landscapers in the border town of Douglas, killing one.

14. Get swept away by a flash flood

Monsoon storms hit fast and hit hard, often leading to flash flooding that fills streets and transforms dry washes and creek beds into raging rivers within minutes. During a record-breaking downpour in August 2014 that immersed much of the state, a 53-year-old Tucson woman drowned after her car was swept off the road by foot-high floodwaters and into a nearby wash.

13. Be sucked into a sinkhole

Aside from the occasional minor quake, the ground's pretty sturdy in these parts. As such, the gaping sinkhole in Queen Creek that suddenly swallowed Guadalupe Nill earlier this month, killing the 60-year-old farm worker, has become a mystery to both geologists and police investigators.

12. Drown in a swimming pool or hot tub

As the mercury skyrockets in Arizona every spring and summer, so do drowning deaths in metro Phoenix. And it's not just children who die. According to the watchdog website Child Safety Zone, more adults (29) drowned in 2015 in Maricopa County than children and teens, including a 24-year-old man found floating in the hot tub at the Sheraton Crescent Hotel last August.

11. From a hantavirus infection

As adorable as field mice might appear, you don't want to get anywhere near the rodents. They can transmit hantavirus, a nasty bug that causes incurable and potentially lethal pulmonary problems. Since 1993, the vermin, through their excrement and saliva, have caused multiple outbreaks of the virus in Arizona that have killed more than 20 people, most recently a member of the Navajo Nation in January.

10. Get run over by a car walking or bicycling

Word to the wise: Keep your head on a swivel and an eye on traffic while out walking, jogging, or bicycling in our state. Arizona drivers were ranked among the worst in the country (sixth) in an analysis of traffic statistics by the website Car Insurance Comparison. One major reason for this was that 31 cyclists and 151 pedestrians were creamed by motorists in 2015. Local drivers already are busy doing more of the same this year, as four residents have been killed since New Year’s Day.

9. In a motorcycle crash

Motorcyclists take their lives into their own hands whenever they hit the road, as their cherished bikes offer little to no protection in a wreck. In fact, the National Highway Transportation Safety Board says 80 percent of motorcycle accidents end in injury or death. And last month’s death of Gilbert's Michael Salinel after he was pinned between two cars in a chain-reaction crash on the Loop 101 in Tempe only underscores the sobering statistic.

8. Collide with a train 

In 2006, a Pinal County resident thought he could beat a Union Pacific train to a nearby intersection in his Ford 350 pickup. He paid for the mistake with his life, as well as the lives of his son and a friend. It’s a gruesome scene that’s been repeated at numerous rail crossings statewide, including those along Valley Metro Light routes. There have been more than a dozen fatal vehicle collisions with trains since 2008. Then there have been a few other deaths where people played “beat the train” on foot or inexplicably fell asleep on the tracks. 

7. In a road-rage incident

Angry threats and obscene gestures aren’t the only things fired when furious Arizona motorists practice road rage – sometimes there are bullets. David Appleton, a foul-tempered Scottsdale defense attorney with a penchant for threatening other drivers with his sidearm, infamously blew away Paul "Tom" Pearson in 2011. Appleton later claimed that he shot the 50-year-old father of three, who’d followed him to a CVS parking lot, in self-defense after the two exchanged harsh words. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to prosecute..

6. Catch plague from a dead mountain lion

When Eric York, a wildlife biologist at the Grand Canyon, discovered in 2007 that the mountain lion he’d been tracking had perished with no visible sign of injury, he was curious as to what felled the beast. York soon found out, albeit in the worst possible way, when he contracted pneumonic plague (an inhaled version of the Black Death) while performing a necropsy in his garage without wearing protective gear. He died six days later.

5. From a rattlesnake bite

Thanks to modern medicine and the wide availability of antivenin, dying from a rattlesnake bite is rare. There are exceptions, however, like the cases of the only two Arizonans known to have been killed by rattlers in recent times: Pat Hughes, 45, of Sierra Vista in 2002, and Jackie Ledwell, 63, of Chino Valley in 2007. Both were rushed to the hospital, received treatment, but ultimately succumbed to their snake bites

4. Fall off a mountain trail

Sure footing is important on any trail, but even more so along riskier treks where one false step could result in a lethal plunge. Last November, such a fate occurred to a 69-year-old metro Phoenix resident whose slip while hiking Lookout Mountain in North Phoenix caused him to fall to his death.

3. Jet skiing or water skiing into a larger craft

It's thrilling to jet ski across the water at high speeds, but what if a a bigger water craft is in the way? In 2014, a 24-year-old Marine zooming along the Arizona side of Lake Havasu collided with a 31-foot boat, sustaining a fatal head injury. The lake also was deadly for Californian Michael Tolman, who fell while water skiing in 2003 and died from breathing problems following the accident.

2. Carbon monoxide poisoning from a houseboat

In 2007, 21 people survived carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust created by electricity generators aboard a houseboat on Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border. A 7-year-old girl had passed out and drowned from such fumes while swimming near another houseboat a few days earlier. It was nothing out of the ordinary: three other children and a teenager had drowned after getting overcome by carbon monoxide from houseboats on the lake dating back to 1995.

1. In wildfires

Arizona forests are virtual tinderboxes in summer, which enable massive conflagrations that reduce hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness to ashes, cause millions of dollars in damage, and — in the cases of two massive wildfires — claim the lives of firefighters. In 1990, the Dude Fire near Payson killed six fire crew  members —  a tragedy eclipsed in 2013 when Yavapai County's Yarnell Hill Fire killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.