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Authorities: Man Drowns in Hot Pools at Lava Hot Springs

The story was originally posted on the Idaho State Journal.

A Pocatello man died after allegedly drowning while soaking in the Lava Hot Springs hot pools, authorities said.

Jake Gunchick, 31, died on May 22 after being found submerged underwater at Lava Hot Springs’ popular hot pools, the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

Authorities said emergency resuscitation efforts failed, and the Bannock County Coroner’s Office reports that all indications are that Gunchick drowned in the hot pools.

People contacted the Journal this week about Gunchick’s death, prompting the newspaper to contact the Sheriff’s Office, which on Tuesday confirmed he died.

The Lava Hot Springs Foundation, which operates the hot pools, has not yet commented about what is the first drowning at the hot pools in recent memory.

The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office said it received a report around 11 a.m. on May 22 about a man, later identified as Gunchick, who was unconscious and not breathing at the hot pools located at 430 Main St. in Lava Hot Springs. The individual who discovered Gunchick found him unconscious and submerged underwater, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Gunchick was flown from Lava Hot Springs via emergency helicopter to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello where he was pronounced dead.

Payton Ockerman, a Pocatello woman who shared a romantic relationship with Gunchick for three years, told the Journal on Tuesday that she is uncertain what caused Gunchick to lose consciousness and become submerged in the water at the hot pools. But she believes he might have experienced complications stemming from a stroke he had in June 2018.

Gunchick experienced a case of shingles that caused a blood clot in his brain that led to the stroke, Ockerman said. Following the stroke, he started having difficulty using basic motor skills and he complained of horrible, excruciating headaches, Ockerman said.

Gunchick appeared to be mostly back to normal by the time of his death, but Ockerman said that he did experience random bouts of dizziness and had passed out on a few occasions without any warning.

Ockerman said she was with Gunchick the night before he died and he was discussing plans to go to the hot pools in Lava Hot Springs. She said it was already late in the evening when Gunchick wanted to leave, so she talked him into going the next day.

“I told him to be really careful and to take someone with him if he could,” Ockerman said.

But Gunchick decided to go to the hot pools by himself on the day of his death.

In addition to being an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish, Ockerman said Gunchick lived and breathed on his motorcycle. She said Gunchick loved to travel on his motorcycle during any free time he could muster away from his job as a freight train conductor for Union Pacific Railroad.

Ockerman said that Gunchick lost his mother when he was younger and his father lives in Arkansas. She is unsure what arrangements are being made for his funeral, but she would like to organize a local celebration of life for the many friends he had in Southeast Idaho.

Furthermore, Ockerman said Gunchick was an organ donor and she hopes his organs helped save other lives.

“I am devastated by the news of his passing and I know all of his friends are as well,” Ockerman said. “I wish there was something more I could have done to help.”