Outdoor Therapy Camp Workers Charged in Hiking Death of Boy

New York Times/September 21, 2002
By Michael Janofsky

Denver -- Two employees of a wilderness therapy camp in central Utah have been charged with child-abuse homicide in the death of a 14-year-old boy two months ago on a desert hike.

The boy, Ian August of Austin, Tex., was the fifth child to die since 1999 while in the care of such a camp in Utah, a state with some of the most stringent regulations for summer programs for children with psychological, drug or alcohol problems.

Brent G. Berkley, the deputy county attorney in Millard County, Utah, brought charges against Mark Wardle, 47, and Leigh Hale, 24, and the camp that employed them, Skyline Journey of Nephi, after the boy collapsed and died of heat exhaustion in their care.

Mr. Berkley said Ian, at 5-foot-2 and 200 pounds, was in "very poor physical condition" when he entered the program and was ill-equipped for a long desert hike in midday summer heat.

On the hike, Mr. Berkley said, Ian complained of thirst and stopped walking. He was given water, but fell unconscious, prompting Mr. Wardle to call 911 on his cellphone. Because of the remote location of the hike, about 40 miles west of Delta, Utah, and wrong information given to a rescue team, an ambulance did not arrive for two hours.

By then the boy was dead.

Mr. Berkley said that Ms. Hale was a licensed emergency medical technician but that she either did not recognize signs of stress or ignored them.

"It is our intent to show there was a reckless disregard for his symptoms and signs of trouble," he said.

Each worker faces 1 to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. The company faces a fine of $25,000.

Lee Wardle, the majority owner of Skyline Journey and Mark Wardle's father, declined to discuss the case on the advice of his lawyer. He said the company had been operating for two years, offering "therapy and emotional growth" to troubled teenagers, who generally participate in groups of nine.

Though the outdoor therapy camps have gained in popularity in the last two decades as options for frustrated parents, the camps have come under a cloud for the deaths of nearly three dozen youngsters since 1980.

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