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Utah Wilderness Program Loses License

October 25, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ An administrative law judge revoked the license of a wilderness therapy program over the death last year of a 14-year-old boy who collapsed from heat exhaustion in the Utah’s desert.

The order gives Skyline Journey, based in Nephi, until next Friday to shut down and send 10 current campers home. Owner Lee Wardle refused to say if Skyline Journey would appeal the decision.

The ruling affirms Ian August’s death ``means something,″ his birth-mother, Judith Pinson of Drumright, Okla., said in Saturday editions of the Salt Lake Tribune. The boy had been placed in the program by his adoptive mother.

In the ruling issued Friday, Administrative Judge Sheleigh Harding said Skyline failed to describe the harsh environment of Utah’s west desert and the physical demands on the teens when it asked a Texas doctor to sign off on enrollment for August, who weighed 198 pounds on a 5-foot, 3-inch frame.

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 July 13, 2002. They had covered little more than a mile over three hours when August refused to hike further. He sat in the sun for an hour before he collapsed and stopped breathing, according to court records.

The Utah Department of Human Services revoked Skyline Journey’s license in October 2002. The operators appealed to the administrative law judge, an independent state employee who rules on state agency decisions. Skyline Journey could still appeal to the state courts.

Mark Wardle, a program manager and part-owner of Skyline Journey, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in August’s death.

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