By Karen Brainard
Following the death of a teen yesterday, July 6, at Cedar Creek Falls, the U.S. Forest Service has temporarily shut down the popular trail to the falls “for health and safety concerns,” said U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Brian Harris.
Sixteen-year-old Joseph Meram of El Cajon was hiking with his family and is believed to have fallen down a steep cliff, landing in the water at Cedar Creek Falls, according to the San Diego medical examiner’s report. Initial reports said the hiker was believed to have jumped from a rock down to the water.
Meram was airlifted to an ambulance, but failed to respond to CPR efforts and was pronounced dead at 12:10 p.m., the examiner’s report said.
A second juvenile male was injured when Meram fell onto him and was taken by San Diego County Sheriff’s Department ASTREA (Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies) to Palomar Medical Center, according to a report from the sheriff’s department.
Harris said the trailhead at the end of Thornbush Road in San Diego Country Estates, the two trails to the waterfall and the waterfall are closed.
“We can implement a 72-hour emergency closure,” he said. As of Thursday morning, law enforcement is on the site, Harris reported.
“We’re really advising people to stay away from the area,” said Harris, adding that no determination has been made as to how long the trail will remain closed.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail, in the Cleveland National Forest, has become more of a controversial issue since the U.S. Forest Service installed the trailhead at the end of Thornbush Road. Improvements to the approximately five-mile round trip trail to the falls have drawn hundreds of people every weekend, residents living near the trailhead have said. Those residents have complained of excessive traffic and speeding in the neighborhood, and of people partying, littering, and urinating in yards.
A meeting with homeowners and law enforcement had been scheduled with San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday to address the growing problems at the trailhead, said Country Estates Homeowner Association President Eileen Castberg.
Just before the meeting in Jacob’s El Cajon office, Castberg said she learned of the fatality at the falls.
“Dianne was very, very upset,” Castberg said of Jacob. She added that everyone in the meeting room was quiet.
About 10 homeowners from the trailhead area were at that meeting, Castberg said, along with representatives from CalFire, the county Traffic Advisory Committee, ASTREA, and U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter’s office. Lt. Julie Sutton from the county sheriff's Ramona substation and William Metz, Cleveland National Forest supervisor, were also at the meeting, Castberg said.
“We all said just close it until you can get your act together,” Castberg said they told the forest service.
Over the July 4th holiday weekend, CalFire reported eight helicopter rescues from the Cedar Creek Falls trail and several ground transports to Pomerado Hospital in Poway and Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. The calls were due to hikers suffering from heat exhaustion or injuries to the lower extremities, said CalFire Capt. Mike Mohler.
No drinking water is available at the trail site and Harris said people were not equipped with enough water over the weekend. Mohler said a hiker took two dogs on the trail and one of the dogs, a boxer, died from lack of water.