Scout's Death on Hike in Heat Triggers Lawsuit

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The parents of a Boy Scout who died last year during a 20-mile hike in extreme heat are suing the organization whose famed motto, "Be Prepared," sets a standard they believe the hike's leaders failed to meet.

Michael Sclawy-Adelman was 17 and close to reaching scouting's highest rank -- Eagle -- when he collapsed and died during the hike in the Florida Everglades in May 2009.

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Boy Scout Death

"They're supposed to be trained to recognize signs and symptoms," Michael's mother, Judith Sclawy-Adelman, said.

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Scouts put in -- collectively -- millions of hours in the wilderness every year without serious incident and the movement has earned the respect of generations of former scouts, including more than one U.S. president and nearly every man who ever walked on the moon.

Still, the lawsuit argues, despite its well-known emphasis on safety, the Boy Scouts of America has failed to live up to its own standards.

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But his death is at the heart of this challenge to the organization's reputation. And the scenario of his final hours, which are spelled out in the lawsuit and in police reports filed by agencies that responded to his scoutmaster's distress call, make for painful reading.

Michael was one of three scouts who set out with two leaders at 9 a.m. on a planned 20-mile day hike, despite temperatures predicted to be above 90. By 1 p.m., the boys had reached the 15-mile mark and were showing signs of fatigue.

"Mike began to seem dizzy, we had him sit down to rest and drink water," Crompton later wrote in a police report. "After about 20 minutes, Mike got worse. He seemed to be choking. I turned him on his side, he vomited. I cleared his mouth. He stopped breathing."

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Crompton called 9-1-1.He had been performing CPR on Michael for 45 minutes by the time the rescue helicopter reached them. Michael was airlifted out but he was soon pronounced dead.

The lawsuit, which also names the scout leaders and the local church in South Florida that sponsors the troop, claims the Boy Scouts violated one of their own key virtues: trustworthiness.

"It just boiled down to us trusting in the Boy Scouts," said Michael's father, Howard Adelman.

"Not to press on regardless for another five miles if you're showing signs of heat and disorientation," his mother later added.

Crompton declined a request to speak with ABC News.


A Half-Dozen Scouting Deaths Since the 1990s

But scout leaders say trust and preparedness are responsibilities they share with the scouts and their parents, especially in anticipation of outdoor activities that have some inherent risk.

"We all share responsibility to make things as safe as possible," said Kathy Burns, an assistant scout master in Ohio and the mother of two Eagle Scouts, speaking on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America. She was part of a three-person team chosen by the BSA to respond to questions from ABC News.

"The scouts who have a responsibility to learn the skills and prepare themselves physically, the leaders who are trained and who train the scouts and the community organizations that work with us."


She noted: "Boy Scouts work jointly with the parents who are sending their scouts on these outings and know their scouts the best."

Michael's parents say he was physically fit and determined to complete the hike when he stepped into Big Cypress.

The Adelman's attorney Mark Sylvester, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit in June that seeks unspecified damages, claims this is not the first time that alleged Boy Scout negligence has resulted in a scouting death. A half-dozen scouts have died since 1990s, including boys who were struck by lightning in areas where thunderstorms had been forecast, drowned while canoeing in waters that had been described as dangerous or suffered heat stroke while hiking one of the most challenging stretches of the Grand Canyon.

"This is not a condemnation of the Boy Scouts; they are a very worthwhile organization," Sylvester said, noting the morals, values and leadership skills that are taught. "But at the same time, they have flaws. Children are dying. Children are being severely injured. And things need to change. It needs to stop. People need to know about it."

Burns, the Ohio assistant scout master, said the organization takes deliberate steps to minimize the risk of danger in challenging outdoor activities that, by their very nature, often involve risk.

"I can't imagine what it must be like for parents to lose their son," she said. "But what I can tell you is that the Boy Scouts is so proactive in everything they do in regards to safety.

"Everything we do is looking at what could happen, what are the risks involved, how do we prepare? There are circumstances that are beyond our control. But that's where our training kicks in. And that's where we use those skills we learned."

'Never Heard From Scouts That Night'

For the Adelmans, they said their heartbreak was compounded by the way they learned about the tragedy. The Collier County Sheriff's Office contacted them.

They also said they didn't hear from the Boy Scouts until about 24 hours after Michael's death, when Compton called at midday.

"The sheriff knocked on the door," Judith Sclawy-Adelman recalled. "He said, 'Michael.' And, 'He died.'

"When my daughter, my husband came home they were screaming and collapsing to the ground. That was almost as horrible. ... But we never heard from the Scouts that night."