Jeff Block, buddy Blue are leaving their mark

By EJ Montini

August 25, 2012

Earlier this month, I wrote about the death of a good man who was also a good son and a good brother. It’s the kind of story we often do in the news business. What we don’t often do is cover the aftermath, in which the victims of such a tragedy seek, and sometimes find, grace.

This is about the aftermath.

Sometime in the late afternoon of July 25, while driving south on U.S. 60 out of Show Low, 57-year-old Jeff Block lost control of his Dodge Ram truck, leaving the roadway and plunging several hundred feet down the embankment.

The truck’s wreckage with Jeff’s body inside finally was discovered two weeks later, a few hours after I’d spoken to Jeff’s anguished father, Sherwin.

“To have a child be missing without any clues, without any rhyme or reason, it’s just … just a terrible thing,” he told me. “It surely is.”

Jeff was traveling with his all-white, blue-eyed wolf-mix dog named Blue. The dog had not been found when I initially wrote about the accident. The next day, Sherwin called to tell me that a team from Superstition Search and Rescue had returned to the crash site and located Blue’s body.

The day Jeff disappeared, he telephoned his father to say he was driving outside of Show Low and would be unable to get back to Phoenix in time for their scheduled dinner. The two of them were planning to drive to Colorado early the next day on a fishing trip.

When Jeff didn’t show up, his brother Dan flew in from California. He and his father drove the steep, treacherous stretch of U.S. 60 between Show Low and Globe.

“My father, brother and I were on that road in late May,” Dan told me. “Our father took us up to Greer for a fly-fishing get-together. It’s something we do regularly. My dad and my brother were heading out the next morning to go fly-fishing for my brother’s birthday. We drove the road to see if we could spot any signs of a truck going off. We saw some wreckage but it wasn’t his. You’re thinking maybe he was hurt, surviving and needed our help. But it’s extremely difficult to spot things.”

Even from the air.

Dan organized private flyovers of the area before the Civil Air Patrol got involved in the search. But Jeff’s truck isn’t the first vehicle to have gone off U.S. 60, and a number of the old wrecks are still visible. One of the volunteers searching for Jeff suggested the old wrecks should be marked so that spotters in airplanes can more easily find a recent accident.

“Then someone suggested painting big X’s using the color blue,” Dan said, “because of Jeff’s dog and because it’s not a color you see in the desert. Another friend said we could call the effort Project Blue, something we figure Jeff would like.”

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In an e-mail after Jeff’s dog was found, Sherwin wrote to me, “Jeff and Blue will be cremated together and their ashes strewn on the Frying Pan River in Colorado, where Jeff and his brother Dan loved to fly fish. We’ll do that next year on July 30th.”

Jeff’s birthday.

“This has been a terrible ordeal for our parents, my sister and me,” said Dan. “Jeff was a great guy. Our family is close. But people have been very kind to us. We’ve made friends out of this, and we wanted something good to come out of a terrible experience. We have that with Project Blue.”

In Norman Maclean’s great novel “A River Runs Through It,” a father and two sons are bound together by faith, family and fly fishing, sort of like the Block boys and their dad.

At one point, the narrator of the novel, one of the brothers, says: “My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”