Authorities Identify Man Who Died At Burning Man

Authorities have identified the person who died at Burning Man, the Nevada festival where tens of thousands of attendees were stranded due to a desert downpour and muddy terrain, as 32-year-old Leon Reece.

The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office said Tuesday that the Truckee, California, man died on Friday. While an investigation into his death is ongoing, the medical examiner’s office believes drugs may have been involved.

“The cause and manner of death are pending investigation, but drug intoxication is suspected,” the office said.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said it received a report of an unresponsive man on Friday evening and that medics rushed to the scene. Sheriff’s deputies were delayed by the severe mud and bad weather, and by the time they arrived, a doctor had declared Reece dead.

Attendees watch as the Man effigy burns at the close of this year's beleaguered Burning Man festival.
Attendees watch as the Man effigy burns at the close of this year’s beleaguered Burning Man festival.

JULIE JAMMOT via Getty Images

Reece’s identity was revealed a day after some 70,000 festivalgoers began their journey out of Black Rock City, the makeshift town they’ve assembled in a remote swath of the Nevada desert nearly every year since 1986, after authorities lifted a driving ban due to the severe weather.

While attendees of the arts-focused festival typically begin their exodus on Sunday, officials told them on Friday night to expect delays, shelter in place and conserve food and water until further notice as a massive storm moved into the area, turning the typically dusty terrain into an unnavigable muddy swamp.

When people received the all-clear to begin driving out on Monday, wait times to get out of Black Rock City reached seven hours.

There have been other deaths at Burning Man, including that of 41-year-old Aaron Joel Mitchell in 2017. Mitchell died when he pushed past volunteers and ran into the flames of the Man, a giant wooden effigy that is burned at the end of the festival.

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