Human remains found along U.S. Highway 191 in southern San Juan County have been identified as that of a man who was hitchhiking from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Moab.
Charles Daniel Samek, 65, left his family’s residence in Albuquerque in 2014. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office (SJCSO) said a family picking up litter along the highway near mile post 15 in January found a skull and contacted Navajo Police.
The skull was the only human remains found at the scene, SJCSO said.
The personal papers and items located in the area of the skull helped authorities to identify the remains as belonging to Samek. The case was transferred from Navajo Police to SJCSO, reports said. Samek’s family provided dental records and the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office was able to positively match the skull and jaw bone to that of Samek.
Samek hitchhiked frequently and had known mental health conditions, according to the family’s statements to the Albuquerque Journal in July.
Sara Melnicoff, founder of Moab Solutions, a nonprofit that assists the homeless with resources, said Samek’s mother called her in 2014.
“She found my name and number among some of his stored belongings. People get my number from a variety of places, but he never did contact me,” Melnicoff said. “When his mom called and then sent me the missing poster, I realized that I used to see him walking from the Grand County Public Library to Cinema Court Apartments, where he was staying with a friend.”
Melnicoff said she checked the court docket in Grand County and asked the Grand County Sheriff’s Office if they had reports on Samek, but she said she only found “an old one-night stay in jail.”
Melnicoff said she checked with other agencies in the Moab area and hung up the missing person’s poster. She periodically checked in with Samek’s mother, but did not try to call her too often “after it seemed apparent that something bad had happened.”
“My heart goes out to Daniel and to his mother,” Melnicoff said upon hearing the news that his remains had been recovered. “Even though she is now 88, she lost her baby and it breaks her heart. The lesson I take from this it to try to be extra careful to be sensitive and aware of what people may be going through. It is hard to know about someone else’s suffering, but we can help ease pain and help turn a situation around with just a little bit of time and caring.”
The cause of Samek’s death is unknown, reports said. There was no sign of trauma to the skull. The SJCSO, which provided a press release about the identification of the human remains, said the records in Samek’s case are filed as protected.