Scout's Death on Hike in Heat Triggers Lawsuit

Photo: Boy Scout Death

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.

Boy Scout Death
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.

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