Judge Yanks Wilderness Therapy Programs License

Judge Yanks Wilderness Therapy Programs License

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An administrative law judge revoked the license of a wilderness therapy program over the death of a Texas boy to heat exhaustion in Utah's west desert last year.

Nephi, Utah-based Skyline Journey has until Friday to shut down and send 10 campers packing under the order. Owner Lee Wardle refused to say if Skyline Journey would appeal the decision to a state court.

The ruling affirms "his death means something," said Judith Pinson, of Drumright, Okla., the birth mother of Ian August, a 14-year-old Texas boy who was placed in program by his adoptive mother.

Skyline failed to describe the harsh environment of Utah's west desert and physical demands on the teens when it asked a Texas doctor to sign off on enrollment for Ian August, who weighed 198 pounds on a 5-foot, 3-inch frame, according to Friday's ruling from Sheleigh Harding, a Department of Human Service's administrative judge.

Skyline Journey failed to comply with "one of the most critical rules governing wilderness programs," wrote Harding, who determined that "Ian's doctor never had the opportunity to determine whether Ian's physical condition would make him an appropriate candidate for the types of activities Skyline Journey would require him to do."

The boy set out with five other teens and three counselors on a 3-mile trek across the Sawtooth Mountain region in western Millard County on July 13, 2002, when a heat wave rolled across Utah. They had covered little more than a mile over three hours when August refused to hike further, leaving him in the sun for an hour before he collapsed and stopped breathing, according to court records.

Counselors were unable to revive him and an autopsy determined he died of hyperthermia or heat exhaustion.

Mark Wardle, a program manager and part-owner of Skyline Journey, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in August's death last February when a 4th District Court judge dismissed a charge of child abuse homicide.

The state Office of Licensing, which regulates wilderness therapy programs, filed the complaint against Skyline and says the ruling prevents the Wardles from operating any other wilderness therapy program.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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