Family members of a 19-year-old man who fell to his death near Clavey River last week described the 6-foot, 7-inch tall Columbia College student as a “gentle giant” with a bright future ahead of him.
Daniel Morgan Cox, of Sonora, was pronounced dead Thursday after falling about 50-feet down a steep embankment to the river’s edge, according to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.
Cox was on a camping trip with six friends when he left the group’s campsite late Wednesday night, according to family members and authorities.
After about 20 minutes passed, his friends became worried and began searching for him.
The group found Cox unconscious but still breathing at the bottom of an embankment near the Forest Road 1N01 bridge that crosses the river.
Several friends stayed with Cox while others drove out on the forest road in search of cell phone reception. Sheriff’s dispatchers received the emergency call at 12:33 a.m., according to reports.
Sheriff’s deputy and search-and-rescue team coordinator Rob Lyons said it takes about an hour to reach cell phone service from the area where Cox had fallen and another hour for authorities to arrive at the scene.
The friends who made the emergency call led 12 members of the search-and-rescue team to where Cox fell, but he had already died, Lyons said.
He said Cox’s body was recovered using a high-angle rope system constructed by the search-and-rescue team.
“It appears he just got too close to the edge at night or didn’t know he was too close,” Lyons said of the accident.
Cox’s father, Stephen, said the coroner arrived at his home in Sonora where he lived with his son shortly after 8 a.m.
“I thought he had been in an accident,” Stephen Cox said, his voice trailing off.
Stephen Cox described his son as a “big, tall guy with a big heart” who enjoyed playing guitar, hanging out with his friends and helping others whenever he could.
“He was always driving people around when they needed rides to work. He was just a really good guy all around,” Stephen Cox said.
Daniel Cox graduated from Sonora High School in 2011 and had attended Columbia Elementary School. He was enrolled at Columbia College and was planning to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering, his family said.
He would have turned 20 this October.
“Obviously, our family is trying to cope with the grief,” said Cox’s uncle, Erik Andal.
Cox’s mother, Julia Cox, and sister, Desiree “Desi” Cox, both live in Katy, Texas, and arrived in town over the weekend.
Julia Cox said her son stayed in the area and lived with his father because “there was no place he wanted to be more than Tuolumne County.”
“He loved the hills and his friends,” she said during a phone interview Saturday.
The family members said they would hold a private memorial service in the near future.
They are also planning to set up a scholarship fund at Columbia College in Cox’s name. Julia Cox said anyone interested in learning more about the fund can call the college’s financial services department and ask about the Daniel M. Cox Memorial Scholarship Fund.