The two deaths

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Posted by desert rambler on August 20, 2004 at 06:53:58:

From the local news....

Mother, son are mourned in Downey

Deaths of pair in Death Valley storm, flood shock neighbors.

By Karen Robes
Staff writer

DOWNEY Tabea Reith, 71, and her son Bernhard Reith, 48, loved a good outdoor adventure and traveled almost every weekend. They were avid campers and often headed to Bishop, one of their favorite camping destinations, neighbors said.
Neighbors were shocked and saddened this week by news that the Downey mother and son drowned in a violent flood that swept them up Sunday night as they were driving through Death Valley National Park, south of Bishop.

"It's so tragic," said Margie Qualls, who had been neighbors with the Tabea Reith for 30 years. "We were all very sick about it. We couldn't sleep when we heard."

The storm, which loomed over the desert Sunday night and poured .33 inches of rain in less than 20 minutes, was so strong that it devastated the area and left the park with no water and electricity. The rain, which accounted for about a quarter of the park's annual precipitation, flooded roads with rocks and debris.

"I've been familiar with the area for 10 years. I've seen it rain pretty good, but I've never seen anything like this," said Robert Franke, Inyo County deputy coroner.

The family, who motored along California Highway 190, were caught in the storm.

On Monday morning, an aircraft surveyed the area searching for stranded vehicles and people. Many abandoned their cars and sought higher ground.

Authorities found a Ford Ranger stuck in the mainstream covered in rocks. The pair were found sitting in the car, still wearing seat belts, Franke said.

So far, they remain the only victims, he said.

Neighbors described the mother and son as nice people who kept to themselves. They were good neighbors who chatted about each other's families and watched over the neighborhood when homeowners were on vacation.

"We have nothing but nice things to say about them," Qualls said.

The family moved to Downey from Canada 39 years ago and was one of a few longtime residents in the area, neighbors said. Tabea had owned a restaurant and was involved with a Lutheran church in Downey. Bernhard, who came to Downey at age 10, attended school in the Downey Unified School District.

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