MCSO confirms first heat-related death of the year, doctor offers heat safety tips

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) confirmed 83-year-old Bruce Ruben died while hiking the Sears Kay Ruins Trail in the Tonto National Forest.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 9:59 PM MST
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MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - May 1 is the start of Heat Awareness Week in Arizona, and unfortunately, Maricopa County had its first heat-related death of the year on Sunday, April 30. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) confirmed that 83-year-old Bruce Ruben died while hiking the Sears Kay Ruins Trail in the Tonto National Forest.

Sgt. Joaquin Enriquez, the spokesperson for MCSO, said Ruben was hiking with his girlfriend but were both wearing flip-flops and running out of water. “He started his hike at around 10:30 yesterday morning. Unfortunately, he went five minutes when his partner called 911 because he had passed out,” said Sgt. Enriquez.

According to detectives, the call for help came in around 1:20 p.m. While deputies were on their way, Sgt. Enriquez said Ruben’s girlfriend said he stopped breathing. When deputies arrived, they began CPR and used an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to help the hiker. The Rural Metro Fire Department also assisted at the scene and tried to help Ruben, but he was pronounced dead just after 2 p.m.

We’re told the Medical Examiner’s preliminary report states this was a heat exposure death, but investigators believe Ruben had underlying medical issues. “It happens very quickly. Some people think it may take some time, it may take a while, but stuff like this happens very quickly and we have to be prepared,” said Sgt. Enriquez. “Unfortunately, this ended in tragedy.”

Sgt. Enriquez urges hikers to take plenty of water out on the trail, wear the correct clothing and research the trail before heading out. In addition, he said it’s important to always let someone know where you will be.

Dr. Gary Kirkilas, a Pediatrician with Phoenix Children’s, said anyone could succumb to the heat if unprepared. “I’ve seen cases in my own practice where it’s only like 95°, but that patient happens to be really dehydrated,” said Dr. Kirkilas. He said people could notice when they’re dehydrated when they’re urinating more frequently, and the color is dark yellow, their mouths are often dry, and they’re extra thirsty.

He said dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, with symptoms such as headaches, nausea, feeling faint, excessive sweating, and sometimes vomiting. He said those are early warning signs to seek shelter and get hydrated. “If someone is experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, within probably half an hour or sometimes even shorter, you can progress to heat stroke,” said Dr. Kirkilas. “The main idea would be to accomplish two goals. One, getting out of the heat source. So getting to shade or getting into air conditioning. That would be step one. Then step two would be getting small sips of water to regain you hydration.” He said small, frequent sips are better than taking large amounts of water too quickly since it could lead to vomiting.

Dr. Kirkilas said the situation could worsen if the heat exhaustion symptoms are ignored. “They will progress to more serious warning signs where we have altered mental status. Meaning, someone is confused. They don’t know where they are or how they got there. Then typically what happens, is we have someone that passes out because they’re so dehydrated and their temperature is up so high,” he said.

He said that is the point when calling 911 is a must. Dr. Kirkilas explained older people and children are most at risk of heat exhaustion, and their symptoms can progress faster to heat stroke. He explained they are unable to thermal regulate, such as sweating, as well as people in other age groups. That is why it can be harder to tell when they are in danger. Also, with children, they may not be able to verbally warn adults of their symptoms.

He said the best advice is for children and older people to spend time outside where water, shade, and help can be quickly available.