Fourteen-year-old Isaiah Oertel was 700 miles from home when, according to the Pickens County Coroner’s Office, he fell to his death at Laurel Forks Falls in northern Pickens County last week.
He’d traveled with Gator Wilderness Camp School from Punta Gorda, Florida, to explore the Foothills Trail, according to Pickens County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chad Brooks.
Brooks said Oertel and a group from the school were at Laurel Forks Falls, about 8.4 miles from the Laurel Valley access parking lot on the Foothills Trail.
Oertel was pronounced dead at the scene of blunt force trauma, according to Coroner Kandy Kelley.
Hiking trails lead to different sections of water from North Carolina, leading to Lake Jocassee in Oconee County, South Carolina. (Photo: Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail)
The case remains under investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division, which routinely investigates child deaths, and the Sheriff’s Office.
Oertel was a member of the New Day Christian Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, according to an obituary posted online by the funeral home of his memorial service. The service was held Oct. 11.
The obituary says he is survived by his adoptive parents, Dennis and DeAnn Oertel, and his two sisters, Savanna and Breanna.
In a Facebook comment, Angi Snell Kane, who said she is DeAnn Oertel’s niece, said, “He was a tall, lanky, very healthy 14 year old. A piece of my Aunt is gone. Their family is so close.”
Dennis and DeAnn Oertel did not return phone calls seeking comment.
“Staff from the SCDNR grieve the death of this young man,” Greg Lucas, a spokesperson for the state Department of Natural Resources, said in a email in response to questions. “While there are inherent risks in outdoor recreation, SCDNR does everything possible to ensure a safe environment on its land.”
“We are sending condolences to the parents to the child but not able to make any statements,” said Phil Florence, an attorney who represents Gator Wilderness Camp School.
The school describes itself on its website as a private, nonprofit organization that operates a year-round camping program to serve boys ages 11 to 15 in a Christian setting.
Lucas said there have been a number of deaths of people falling off waterfalls in recent years. He referenced one recently at Twin Falls less than an hour away from Laurel Forks Falls.
“Unfortunately, it happens,” Lucas said.
Tamia Boyd is a Michigan native and covers breaking news. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tamiamb.
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