By Samantha Wright | Ouray County
The body of a Danish military veteran who has been missing since Feb. 4 was found inside the wreckage of an SUV three miles south of Ouray on Thursday, Feb. 19.
US 550 Red Mountain Pass was closed for hours on Wednesday and Thursday this week while the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office oversaw the extrication of the white Cadillac Escalade that Jin Benny Junge, 26, had rented and was driving when he plunged to his death along a steep area of Red Mountain Pass known as Sullivan’s Gulch.
Local law enforcement officials from the Ouray County Sheriff’s office and Ouray Police Department had been searching for Junge ever since he was reported missing on Feb. 4, said Sheriff Junior Mattivi. Junge’s brother, who reported his disappearance, believed he could have been in Ouray County because he had talked about the area.
After receiving the missing person report, the Sheriff’s Office “was stymied for several days in locating Mr. Junge,” said Ouray County Public Information Officer Marti Whitmore in a release. “The Sheriff and deputies did not find any skid marks, side-slip marks or other tire tracks along Red Mountain Pass.”
The Sheriff’s Office then contacted OnStar, the manufacturer of the rental car’s onboard computer navigation system, to find out if the company could pinpoint Junge’s last known location. OnStar would not release the information, however, until Friday, Feb. 13, when Junge was due to return the rental car.
The Sheriff’s office finally received the OnStar data on Tuesday this week, which showed that the last ping from the rental care was recorded was at 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 4. “They gave us the latitude and longitude coordinates from the ping, and our GIS guy plotted it in and pinpointed a location in the canyon below the highway,” Mattivi said.
Three teams of two searchers from the Ouray Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Ouray County Emergency Medical Services set out on foot on Tuesday afternoon to search a mile-long stretch of US 550 from the Engineer Pass turnoff (near Mile Marker 90) to the Riverside Slide snowshed.
The car was finally spotted upside down in the stream bed, 400 feet down in the canyon, just downstream from the snowshed. Its white color made it difficult to spot from the highway, due to the snow on the canyon floor.
“There was really nobody out and about that would have seen him when he went off the highway,” Mattivi said. “From the time we were notified, we spent a portion of every day looking for it, but we couldn’t do anything. It took a while for the pieces to come together.”
The Ouray County Coroner has identified Junge’s body, but has not completed the investigation into the cause of death, pending completion of an autopsy. Road conditions have been eliminated as a cause of the incident. Junge’s family said he had been “despondent” prior to going missing, Mattivi said.
The Ouray County Sheriff’s Office, in cooperation with the Colorado Department of Transportation, directed the two-day recovery effort to extract Junge’s vehicle from the canyon floor more than 400 feet below US 550. The recovery operation required a full closure of Red Mountain Pass for about six hours each day on Wednesday and Thursday this week. The Sheriff’s Office first attempted to extract the vehicle using a crane, which proved unsuccessful. On Thursday, a large wrecker with cables was brought in to complete the job.
The Ouray Mountain Rescue Team also played a role in the recovery effort earlier this week. “We went down there to assess the accident site and see if anyone was still alive in the vehicle,” said OMRT Lieutenant Tim Pasek. “We confirmed that there was in fact someone in the vehicle, but we couldn’t even get to the person in the vehicle because it was so smashed in.”
According to his family, Junge was a veteran of the Danish military and had been in the US vacationing with friends, but when his friends went home he stayed on, renting an SUV at the airport in Los Angeles. Records show that he had used a bank or credit card in Durango a couple of weeks ago.
Junge’s family contacted the Utah-based organization WeHelpTheMissing.org, which set up a Facebook page to help spread the word that he was missing.