State Seeks to Take License of Wilderness Program

State Seeks to Take License of Wilderness Program

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Criminal charges in the death of a Texas boy participating in a wilderness therapy program were dismissed, but the state is seeking to take away the program's license.

Ian August, 14, of Austin died July 13, 2002, after collapsing along the trail during a hike through the mountains of Utah's west desert. He was accompanied by about a half-dozen other children in the Skyline Journeys program and three counselors.

The boy, who was 5 feet 4 inches and weighed about 200 pounds, died of hyperthermia, an autopsy determined.

Earlier this year, 4th District Judge Donald Eyre tossed out child-abuse homicide charges against WOW Developments, the parent of Skyline Journeys, and program manager Mark Wardle. The judge said Skyline Journeys took many more precautions than those provided in similar youth programs.

State officials argued during an administrative hearing Monday that state laws were violated in the operation.

The state Office of Licensing contends the staff failed to recognize the symptoms of hyperthermia and treat them, the hike went beyond the ability of the weakest member of the group, administrators failed to have the appropriate professional medical person screen August for the program and a description of the program wasn't given to a Texas doctor who cleared the teen to enroll.

Wardle testified that August was appropriate for the program.

"We're built the exact same," said Wardle, who also spent five days hiking with August's group. "I consider him overweight. I didn't consider him obese."

Leigh Hale of Orem, who led the group that day, testified that August was acting normal when he refused to hike between 11:30 a.m. and noon. Hale, a certified emergency medical technician who no longer works for Skyline Journey, said she didn't realize August was suffering from a heat-related illness.

"It could have been as long as one hour that Ian was left in the sun," said Ken Stettler, the director of the Office of Licensing.

After trying to get the teen to continue hiking, then checking in with Wardle, Hale and another staff member poured water on August and carried him into the shade of a tree.

"I figured it was pretty serious, but I didn't know the extent," Hale testified.

Hale said she left August for at least 15 minutes to check on the other teens. While she was away, the other staff member discovered that August was not breathing.

On the issue of exceeding the capabilities of the weakest member, the program contends another teen who was diagnosed with "high-functioning autism" was the slowest member of the group and therefore the weakest.

The state contends that the instant August stopped hiking he became the weakest member and the hike should have stopped.

Further testimony was scheduled Tuesday. The administrative law judge, Sheleigh Harding will rule within two months.

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

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