Friday, September 10, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Robert Cole Graham takes a moment at Sacred Falls State Park
for Jennifer Johnson, his fiancee, killed in the rock fall in May.
Graham, of Canoga Park, Calif., hiked in despite the
state's refusal to allow access.

Man mourning
fiancee defies Sacred
Falls prohibition

The visitor could face charges
for hiking to the site, a
state official says

By Jaymes K. Song


Robert Cole Graham visited the spot where his fiancee was killed -- but not with the state's consent.

When the sun rose yesterday, Graham hiked to Sacred Falls to say goodbye to Jennifer Johnson, who was killed in the Mother's Day rock fall.

Two days earlier, the state told him he would not be allowed into the park, citing a pending lawsuit and safety concerns.

But Graham, who flew from Canoga Park, Calif., this week, said he was under the assumption that the state was escorting victims' families and friends to the falls.

"I saw what I wanted to see," said Graham, hours before catching his flight to California. "I'm satisfied. I had to do what I had to do."

But Graham's hike has state officials upset.

"He wants his closure and he'll risk everyone else's life?" said Gary Moniz, head of the state Conservation and Resources Enforcement Division. "That's not too appealing to me."

Graham and anyone who enters the park faces being arrested for "entering a closed area," a petty misdemeanor, Moniz said. And the state still could seek prosecution even though Graham is back in California.

Moniz did not say whether he would take action against Graham.

Graham videotaped the falls and said a prayer where rocks came down, killing Johnson and seven others on May 9.

It took him about two hours to complete the hike. An exhausted and uninjured Graham was greeted by a friend and two siblings next to the memorial at the park entrance. "I got my closure," he said.

Yesterday, state conservation officers weren't around to cite Graham. The officers, along with police and fire rescue crews, were busy at neighboring Kahana Valley scouring the park for a man who had not come out. The man's body was later recovered.

"There's rescue efforts in the mountains, they're tired," Moniz said. "They don't have time to run around for people breaking the law."

"He jeopardized quite a few people."

Moniz said he and many of his officers were at the falls shortly after the tragic rock slide, and for several following days.

"I understand what he's going through. I sympathize with all the victims," he said. "We feel bad about it. It's a tragic event. But for someone to risk the lives of many others is unacceptable."

Graham said the state should assist the victims' families and friends.

He said, "If they clear the red tape, we don't have to break through the yellow tape."

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