Los Alamos Man Develops Lessons Learned Presentation Following Best Friend’s Death

Jaret McDonald of Los Alamos giving a presentation recently in Albuquerque on individual safety and situational awareness. Courtesy photo

Los Alamos Daily Post

Jaret McDonald was on the scene when his best friend David Sturm died in a logging incident Nov. 3, 2012 in the Jemez Mountains. Through his grief he developed an “Injuries Result in Loss of Life – Lessons Learned” presentation, which he has delivered to more than 1,000 people in Los Alamos and earlier this month began sharing with a statewide audience.

David William Sturm July 22, 1957-Nov. 3, 2012

“Dave was an avid outdoorsman enjoying his four-wheeler, snowmobile, hiking in the mountains and nearby ruins, logging, and smoking brisket on the grill,” McDonald said. “He loved life, laughing, being devilish, honesty and friendship. He thrived by the historical and natural resources available to him as well as the culture of the Native Americans. He always shared his passions with family and friends.”

Sturm died at Cochiti Mesa in the Jemez Mountains about a mile south of La Cueva Volunteer Fire Station. Forest Road 289 above Pines Canyon – the same canyon that flooded Dixon Apple Orchard, across from Tent Rocks. McDonald described the incident conditions as mild and clear weather, steep terrain with unsure footing on private property in the Las Conchas Fire burned area.

The stump from the cut tree that fell on David Sturm. Courtesy photo

The property owners hired Sturm and McDonald to fell dead problem trees left in the wake of the Las Conchas Fire. A plan was enacted to cut the tree in two-foot sections from the top down because the tree was in a precarious location that made it unsafe to fell the tree from its base, McDonald said. The tree leaned strongly toward up hill and there was no safe area from which to cut.

The team agreed to wait for another weekend to obtain the manlift equipment, he said.

“David decided to assess the problem tree and climbed to the rock ledge next to the leaning tree,” McDonald said. “Clear warnings were conveyed to David to stay with our predetermined plan but he took my saw and walked to the edge. He was reminded again not to cut that tree.”

Jaret McDonald sawing trees as a child. Courtesy photo

McDonald, his wife and her friend were having a casual conversation with the landowner and others when they heard the chainsaw start up.

“We ran to the edge of the cliff and saw David cutting the tree,” McDonald said. “He had already made the front cut and was mostly through the back cut when we saw the tree falling toward him and he had no escape route.”

The tree stuck Sturm on his right shoulder, sending him in a violent tumble approximately 15 feet down the cliff. Upon impact, he was propelled over the more than 200 foot sheer cliff, McDonald said.

McDonald scaling down to retrieve his chain saw weeks after the death of his friend. Courtesy photo

McDonald spent a long time analyzing the moments leading up to the death of his best friend.

“The contributing factors were high risk work, adrenaline, wanting a quick fix, his deviation from the plan and his demonstrated unsafe behavior,” he said. “How does this affect you – think about your surroundings, stop work, take the keys.”

“I have been giving this presentation since the death of my best friend,” McDonald said. “The focus of this presentation is on individual safety and situational awareness. Even though this was a logging accident, it completely applies to every day life and how the community can become safer in decision making and responding to high stress incidents. David Sturm was killed in a horrific manner that was completely avoidable and preventable.”

McDonald is now a candidate for Los Alamos County sheriff. He doesn’t charge for his presentation. Last year he was nominated for the Red Cross Real Hero Award for taking this information and material to a presentation format and delivering multiple presentations. 

“I feel that if this presentation can help one person make a better decision in their own personal and community safety then David’s death won’t be such a tragedy.”

Jaret McDonald, second from left, and his wife Jennifer, at left, with friends. Courtesy photo


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