BOZEMAN, Mont. - After the loss of Deputy Jake Allmendinger in an incident on Saturday night, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin is sending a warning to recreationists to consider the lives of rescuers when making decisions outdoors.
Deputies Jake Allmendinger and Ryan Jern were responding to a call on the road to Fairy Lake, an isolated area north of Bozeman popular with locals, about a stranded motorist. As icy conditions from Saturday night’s snowstorm made Allmendinger’s Chevy Tahoe slide down the road, which has a steep drop-off into the canyon, Allmendinger got out and was pinned under the car. Jern attempted to save him, but was unsuccessful. Jern was uninjured.
The 31-year-old leaves behind a wife and three children.
"Everybody that I talked to so far is like, ‘Everyone liked Jake.’ I mean he was one of those guys who was just, he’s a good, good guy,” said Gootkin at a press conference on Sunday. “And he’ll be missed. But you know, when people’s faces light up when they’re talking about him, that tells you everything.”
The stranded driver was later rescued by search and rescue teams, but some wonder why he was on such a dangerous road in the first place, especially with an incoming storm.
“Anybody that’s driven that road… it’s a bad road in the summertime, dry,” Gootkin said. “And then… that storm came through last night? It’s a bad - it’s a bad road.”
Gootkin wouldn’t confirm if the condition of the unpaved road was a factor in the incident, but he advised recreationists against attempts to use it in the coming weeks.
“That storm was totally predictable. And for people to be going and being up in that area on that horrible road, obviously puts our people in danger,” he emphasized.
It’s not just law enforcement that gets put in danger on the road after blizzard-like conditions.
Kyle Cook was visiting from Virginia with his family when he got stranded not even a mile up Fairy Lake Road on Sunday afternoon.
“We got a little ways up the mountain that the road was closed off,” Cook recalled. “Turned around and we were coming back down. Gave a little brake and she just started sliding, and we almost went right over the edge.”
He hadn’t heard about Allmendinger’s death until after Cook’s car was almost off of the road. With two children in the car at the time of Cook’s close-call, he’s warning others against using the road at all.
“It was terrifying. Don’t, don’t do it. Not today.”
“If anyone takes anything away from this: that they think about not only themselves, but they think about our search and rescue volunteers, and our emergency responders that put themselves in danger to help them,” Gootkin said. “And that’s exactly what those two were doing last night.
A Forest Service employee told Montana Right Now that the road to the Lower Fairy Lake Trailhead would not be closed early in light of Allmendinger’s death or Sunday’s incidents.
But Allmendinger will remain at the forefront of many minds in Bozeman. Gootkin says the family is arranging funeral plans, and since it was a death that happened in the line of duty, it will be treated with the highest honor.