Ridgecrest, Calif. —Four local off-road motorcyclists found two elderly men Saturday in the El Paso Mountain Wilderness area. The four, Kenny Harwood, Gregory Torres, Luke Petersen and Lenny Winterly, were out on a motorcycle ride Saturday morning when they found 78-year-old William Kearns and 85-year-old Richard Helle. In a press release, Kern County Sheriff Sgt. Mike Scott said the KCSO received a call Thursday night concerning the two missing men.
Kearns’ family reported he and Helle left Hemet, CA at approximately 4 a.m. in a red Chevy Silverado.
“The subjects were en route to the desert area to go gold prospecting for the day,” Scott said. “The subjects did not return at their scheduled time, and the family did not have contact with them. The subjects were reported to only have a small amount of food and water, and Kearns was a diabetic with an unknown amount of insulin with him.”
Scott said Ridgecrest Substation deputies immediately started a ground search of the area in the Randsburg-Johannesburg area throughout the night and Friday. The Sheriff’s helicopter was called out and assisted with the search. The ground units and the helicopter were unable to locate the missing subjects.
The Sheriff’s Office Off-Highway Vehicle-Enforcement Team continued the search early Saturday morning using off-highway motorcycles and 4-by-4 vehicles.
Scott said Harwood, Torres, Petersen and Winterly found Kearns and Helle at approximately 8:15 a.m. stuck in a wash area. The motorcyclists notified the Sheriff’s Office and stayed with the elderly subjects while deputies responded to their location.
Due to the rugged terrain, the deputies used a 4-by-4 vehicle to transport Kearns and Helle. The subjects were driven to a staging point and turned over to Kern County Fire Department and Liberty Ambulance.
The ambulance transported Kearns and Helle to Ridgecrest Hospital where they were treated for dehydration and lack of insulin and later released.
“I want to commend Kenny Harwood, Gregory Torres, Luke Petersen and Lenny Winterly for their actions,” Scott said later. “I feel their actions saved the two subjects’ lives. The subjects were almost out of water and one of them had left the vehicle on foot and was walking further into an isolated area of the desert.”
He said if these motorcyclists did not find them when they did, the elderly subjects would have continued into the desert and succumbed to the high desert heat.
“When the subjects were being treated at the hospital, the ER doctor told the family that due to Kearns’ lack of insulin, his kidneys would have shut down if he had been out in the desert for another day,” Scott said.
He said the four Ridgecrest residents also dug out the subject’s vehicle and assisted KCSO in extracting it from the wash.
“When the subjects (Kearns and Helle) attempted to give them some money for their efforts, the group declined it,” he said. “These local residents were hesitant to provide their names as they did not want any recognition for their efforts. I am impressed with this group of OHV riders and I have seen this on several incidents. Our local OHV community is always willing to help and always goes out of their way to assist others in need.”
Scott said Kearns and Helle have been to the area many times prior to the incident, and the family wanted to thank Harwood, Torres, Petersen and Winterly as they also felt that they saved Kearns’ and Helle’s lives.