As Burning Man attendees began their slow, muddy journey out of the remote northwestern Nevada desert, authorities on Monday identified a man who died at the festival, and an investigation is underway.
Leon Reece, 32, was pronounced dead Friday, according to the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the Reno Gazette Journal, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said dispatchers received a call at 6:24 p.m. Friday about a man who was unresponsive and receiving CPR from medical personnel on the scene.
But days of heavy rain made accessing the desert site difficult. Allen said that by the time sheriff’s deputies arrived, Reece had been pronounced dead by a doctor at the camp.
The death does not appear weather-related, the Sheriff’s Office told the Journal.
On Monday afternoon, tens of thousands of “Burners” began the congested exodus from Black Rock City, the makeshift desert metropolis that’s home to the annual festival.
Though the process often takes several hours, it was complicated this year by rainfall that turned the ancient lakebed into sticky sludge and led Burning Man organizers to close the gates in and out of Black Rock City and instruct festival-goers to shelter in place.
The driving ban was officially lifted at 2 p.m. Monday. Festival organizers had to delay the road openings because they were “too wet and muddy” and advised attendees to leave Tuesday to alleviate some of the congestion.
Some attendees said it took six to seven hours to reach paved roads Monday but added that the heavy traffic was no different from previous years. Traffic was flowing more smoothly Tuesday morning, with an expected travel time of two to three hours to reach the main highway, according to the festival’s official traffic account.
“Everyone should get plenty of rest before starting to travel on the highway,” officials wrote. “Expect delay and be alert for debris from other vehicles on the highway at higher speeds. Travel Safe.”
Departing Burners were asked to load up to “remove all Matter Out of Place (MOOP) from our camps and our city,” because there is no garbage collection service in Black Rock City.
Many attendees with enough supplies chose to stay through Monday night to watch the ceremonial burning of the festival’s giant eponymous effigy, which was delayed by the rain.
The Black Rock Desert received half an inch to an inch of rain over the weekend, said Mark Deutschendorf, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Reno. “That’s a couple of months’ rain falling in one day,” he said.
Sheriff Allen told the San Francisco Chronicle in an email that “angry” attendees leaving Monday were “not showing compassion to their fellow man who have endured the same issues over the past few days.”
“As usually happens in what burners refer to as the ‘default world’ people allow their emotions to override their reasonableness and they are lashing out at each other as they leave the playa and attempt to make it to their next destination,” Allen told the Chronicle. “This behavior definitely does not fall within the 10 principles of Burning Man, but that is not the fault of [the Burning Man Project] either, but is a societal issue.”
Allen did not immediately respond to requests from The Times for comment.
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