Wilderness school director defends staff after student dies while being restrained
By AVIVA L. BRANDT
Associated Press WriterPORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Instructors at a wilderness school for troubled teens were trying to keep a teen-ager from hurting himself when they restrained him, the school's general manager said Thursday.
The student, William H. "Eddie" Lee, 15, of Scappoose, stopped breathing Monday night during the restraint and later died.
Chris Folsom, manager of the Bend-based Obsidian Trails Outdoor Schools, said the restraint in which one instructor sat on Lee's hips while other held his arms and legs "definitely wasn't used as a disciplinary measure.
"The restraint was to keep him from hurting himself or others," Folsom said Thursday. "There are many students that come with different behavioral problems. A lot of them try to hurt themselves. They've learned the tricks of getting what they want, and sometimes hurting themselves is a way of getting that as well."
Lee's mother, Lynn McAward, delayed her son's enrollment at Scappoose High School so he could go to camp, according to family spokesman Jim MacFarlane. She hoped Lee would learn self-confidence, organizational skills and how to control his anger.
MacFarlane said Lee was a frail boy who, despite being 15, was the same size as his 11-year-old cousins. Lee suffered a head injury as a toddler after being involved in an automobile accident and lived with constant physical problems that required medication.
MacFarlane said Lee's mother even paid extra money so that her son got special attention from an Obsidian staffer. The family was told that Lee flourished the first week but slipped into his old habits when a new field instructor arrived, said MacFarlane.
"The family is so incredibly devastated," MacFarlane said. "He wasn't a
troubled kid. Something went very, very wrong with obvious untrained personnel."
When the incident happened, Lee had been camping with a group of seven other students and four field instructors for about two weeks in a remote area near Glass Butte, west of Burns.
He was going through a program where children with attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and other behavioral problems are taught self-discipline and organization through outdoor skills, said Gregory Bodenhamer, Obsidian Trails director. The school was established about 2 1/2 years ago and about 50 students a year go through the programs.
According to Bodenhamer and Folsom, the incident happened as follows:
On Monday night, Lee was escorted about 200 yards outside of the remote Lake County camp to urinate. The instructor, Charles Matthew Sharp, 22, of Bend, turned his back to give Lee privacy. School rules requires students to call out their student number repeatedly so that the instructor knows the student is still present and safe.
Lee refused to repeat his number or return to camp.
Sharp radioed for backup, and a female instructor responded. The two grabbed Lee by each arm and tried to forcibly return him to camp.
"We can't just leave a student out in the high desert in the middle of the night," Bodenhamer said.
Lee immediately went limp and collapsed, dragging the instructors with him, and then flailed and kicked. The instructors then restrained him. Sharp sat on his hips, while the female instructor grabbed his legs. As Lee continued to struggle, a third staffer grabbed the boy's legs.
They held Lee down for up to 20 minutes before noticing he was no longer breathing. The instructors began CPR and called 9-1-1 to request an air ambulance to fly Lee out.
"They followed procedure and protocol to the letter," Bodenhamer said.
Lee was pronounced dead at a Bend hospital after being flown by helicopter. Results of an autopsy were not released.
Sharp was arrested by Lake County sheriff's deputies and charged with criminally negligent homicide. He was released on bail Wednesday, Schutt said.
"There is a potential for more serious charges and potentially more people may be charged," said Schutt.
Folsom insisted the instructors did nothing wrong when they restrained Lee. He said there wasn't anything inherently dangerous about the restraint, and that Lee's airway wasn't being compressed because he kept turning his head from side to side.
"All we did was try and hold control of his arms and legs. We weren't trying to put him in a position of submission by any means," Folsom said. "We were just trying to keep him from hurting himself by keeping his arms and legs under control."
The district attorney said he asked the Oregon attorney general's office for assistance in the investigator because Lake County doesn't have the budget to investigate a death in which witnesses are scattered across Oregon and the nation.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management suspended Obsidian Trails' permit for operating on its Lakeview District after the death. It was one of four wilderness schools for troubled youth operating in the area.
Folsom said classes are continuing but have been moved to an undisclosed location in the Cascade Range off the BLM Lakeview District.
Of the students in Lee's group, one child was removed from the program by his parents, Folsom said, but the others were returned to it.