Desert death

Samuel Thomas Rich

Samuel Thomas Rich

The Burning Man festival ended sadly for some when Samuel Thomas Rich, 29, of Sparks, died Wednesday.

“He wasn’t using alcohol or drugs,” his friend Elaine Hirt said. “He had two blocked arteries, and we aren’t sure if he knew how bad his heart was because no one else did.”

Rich was a member of Controlled Burn, a dance group which performed at the festival. A message posted by Hirt on the group’s Web site said Rich was walking around Black Rock City when he collapsed and died.

“The coroner’s report states that although Sam was only 29, he had the heart of a 90-year-old man,” it said. “Even if Sam was on an operating table, there was nothing [anyone] could do to bring him back. He officially died on his way to Gerlach to be air-lifted to Washoe Med.”

However, Washoe County Coroner Vernon McCarty said that language doesn’t appear in the autopsy report. He declined to release the report, but said, “Yes, it appears to be a natural death.”

Rich was a local, born in Truckee and a 1993 graduate of Reno’s McQueen High School. He was a marine veteran.

News of the death was blacked out completely both in Nevada and national media. In San Francisco, a center of Burning Man aficionados, no news entity reported Rich’s death.

In the past five years, at least six deaths have been reported at the festival, which is a small city during its short life each year and which hundreds of thousands of people have attended over the decade and a half it has been held in Nevada.

“There were a lot of arrests,” Pershing County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Stephens said of this year’s festival, “nothing surprised us. It was the usual stuff.”

Besides drug use and minor cuts and bruises, the more serious injuries this year included a woman getting run over and a number of sexual assault charges, Stephens said.

Final figures on arrests and public funds expended have not yet been made available.