Body found in desert

A Colorado Air National Guard helicopter waits for a briefing before taking off to search for Nolus Sunoon in the desert north of the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

Steve Aton and Andrea Lapina, center, of Denver are told by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department that a body — later identified as their friend, 34-year-old Nolus Xavier Sunoon — was found just after 5 p.m. in the desert off of 27 1/4 road. The friends of the missing man had come from Denver and Paonia to help find him.

Hot temperatures, high winds and dusty conditions had hindered Mesa County search and rescue teams Tuesday in their effort to locate the body of a Denver man who was dirt biking in the desert hills north of the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

After nearly a day of looking, though, they finally found him.

The man, 34-year-old Nolus Xavier Sunoon, was reported missing by friends on Monday when he failed to show up to a massage class he teaches in Denver, according to friends who came to Grand Junction to help locate him.

The Mesa County Search and Rescue team quickly located his Toyota 4Runner in an off-road vehicle parking area on north 27 1/4 Road. The windows were left partly open and his wallet and cell phone were still in the car.

Tuesday afternoon, they found his crashed Honda 125cc dirt bike about two miles east of there at the base of the Bookcliff Mountains just north of the Grand Junction Motor Speedway.

Other than Sunoon’s helmet and footprints leading away from the bike, however, there was no trace of him.

Search volunteers riding off-road vehicles followed his tracks from the Honda, headed south toward the city, until they found him just after 5 p.m. about a mile away.

Mesa County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said his body was found on a hillside in the open desert.

He had small injuries consistent with a bike accident, but nothing apparent to indicate what actually caused his death, she said.

As a result, the Mesa County Coroner’s Office is investigating the actual cause of death.

Deputy Tim Orr said more than 50 law enforcement personnel and search volunteers were hunting through an area of more than 25 square miles, but high winds were kicking up dust storms that grounded an aerial search of the area, including from the county’s search drone.

“That’s a big area,” he said. “We have about 30 teams out there.”

Two of Sunoon’s friends, Steve Aton and Andrea Lapina, said he was an experienced dirt biker who had come to the Grand Valley desert many times before.

“Nolus comes over here quite a bit, and we knew he was coming,” Aton said. “He left at about noon on Saturday, and was supposed to be back for work on Monday. He never showed up, so we called missing persons.”

Aton and Lapina were the first of his friends to arrive, getting to Grand Junction at about 3 a.m. Tuesday. Two more carloads of friends were on their way to help in the search at about the same time search-and-rescue crews were locating his body.

The two described Sunoon as an adventurous person who enjoyed life.

“He had a long weekend and his girlfriend was out of town so he had a couple of days to himself,” Lapina said. “This is his release, to dirt bike. He’s been riding a bike since he was a kid.”

Benjamin said Sunoon’s friends were transporting his dirt bike, vehicle and other possessions back to Denver.

Sunoon owned the Xavier School for Healing Bodywork in Denver and offered courses on therapeutic massage.

Members of his family, who live out of state, have been notified of his death.


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