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UNT Student Survives 5 Days Stranded In Arizona Desert After Car Ran Out Of Gas

Arizona Department of Public Safety
Amber VanHecke from Denton was commended by Arizona authorities for her survival skills. She left notes for the rescue team to find her as she searched for a cell phone signal.

Five stories that have North Texas talking: Denton woman survives five days in the desert; an autistic teenager in Richardson benefits from pot; hippos return to Dallas Zoo; and more.

It’s been one week since Amber VanHecke, a 24-year-old student at the University of North Texas, was rescued from a remote area in the Arizona desert. She was found by state authorities without food and little water five days after her car ran out of gas, leaving her stranded near the south rim of the Grand Canyon, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The department said VanHecke followed the “proper survival procedures” by having food and water on her trip and leaving notes for authorities to find her. On March 17, the department’s Air Rescue unit got a call from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office about a 911 call from VanHecke, but before they got her exact location, her cell phone call was dropped.


With knowledge of the area, the air rescue team flew over a likely location. They found VanHecke’s car but she wasn’t there. They found a “HELP” sign and a note that VanHecke left saying she was traveling east along the road to find a cell signal. They followed her direction, found her and flew her to the trauma center in Flagstaff, Arizona. VanHecke recounted her experience in an interview with ABC Wednesday morning — watch below. [KERA News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

  • A Richardson family is breaking the law to provide its 17-year-old daughter with the one drug that helps her severe autism: marijuana. Kara Zartler harms herself by repeatedly punching her face and head, sometimes several times a day. It’s unclear what triggers Zartler, but her parents have found that giving her marijuana through a vaporizer is the only thing to soothe her quickly rather than her prescription drugs, The Dallas Morning News reports. Just owning the drug is punishable by six months in jail. The family wants Texas lawmakers to pass a bill that would legalize marijuana for autism patients under a doctor’s care. [The Dallas Morning News]    

  • You asked “What would it take to summon a convention of states?” We answered. As part of the Texas Decides series, public radio reporters across Texas are answering listener questions about the state Legislature. Gov. Greg Abbott deemed a convention of states an emergency item this session. He has spent more than a year pushing the need to pass a series of amendments to the U.S. Constitution to limit the power of the federal government. There are two pieces of legislation this session for a convention, and if they pass, Texas would become the 10th state to call for such a convention. But the U.S. Constitution requires 34 to form an official convention. [Houston Public Media]

  • The Dallas Zoo has hippos again for the first time in 16 years. A pair of Nile hippopotamuses arrived Tuesday and Wednesday from Albuquerque and Los Angeles. Adhama (male) and Boipelo (female) are now cohabiting in the zoo’s new $14 million Simmons Hippo Outpost, opening to the public next month. The two hippos have been matched to breed once they become acclimated to their new habitat and to each other. The Dallas Zoo hasn’t had hippos since 2001, when “Papa,” the most recent hippo died at age 53. At the time, he was the oldest Nile hippo living at a U.S. zoo. [Dallas Zoo]

  • Five members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra piled in an SUV for an instrumental version of carpool karaoke. In the video published Wednesday, concertmaster Alex Kerr drives through the Dallas Arts District with co-concertmaster Nathan Olson, Lydia Umlauf (violin), Kara Kirkendoll Welch (flute) and Erin Hannigan (principal oboe) to their home base: the Morton H. Meyerson Center. If you’re a regular patron of the symphony, you likely recognize their performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Spring,” but the musicians also try their hand at a familiar classic rock tune. [The Dallas Morning News]","_id":"00000174-20e5-d47e-a1f7-72e5cea80000","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">">","_id":"00000174-20e5-d47e-a1f7-72e5cea80000","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">

The High Five is KERA's daily roundup of news stories from Dallas-Fort Worth and across the state. Explore our archives here. And sign up for our weekly email for the North Texas news you need to know.