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Mothers of Scouts struck by lightning recall boys' friendship

Published September 12, 2012 8:53 am

Boy Scouts spokesman says safety is a priority, but moms say sons left to fend for themselves.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Jordan • Sean Smith doesn't talk much about his friend's death. But his mother can see the 13-year-old is still reeling from the loss of his constant companion, 12-year-old David Rayborn.

"You simply would never, ever see them without being with each other. They were literally tied at the hip," BettyJean Smith said Tuesday.

When her son recently announced he had his first girlfriend, Smith thought wistfully that David would also be paired off.

"All the things he was going to do along with David, he has to do without one of the most important people in his life," she said.

David died last summer after he was struck by lightning while at a Boy Scout camping trip near Scofield. The boys' mothers spoke out Tuesday in a news conference with their attorney. The families are suing the Boy Scouts of America and the organization's Orem-based National Parks Council, alleging they failed to follow their own rules for lightning safety.

"There is a great hole in my heart that will never be filled. I miss my son every day, and his three brothers miss him," said Connie Rayborn, tears in her eyes.

A Boy Scouts of America spokesman declined to comment on the specific allegations in the suit Tuesday, but said in a statement the "health and safety of our youth members is a top priority."

"Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families and all who are affected by this tragic accident," said Deron Smith via email, adding that leaders "work tirelessly to help ensure the safety and well-being of our members."

But the mothers said Tuesday no one told the boys where to go when the storm rolled in to Scofield Scout Camp at Frandsen Scout Ranch on July 13, 2011.

"It was sort of every man or boy for himself during this lightning storm, and it shouldn't be that way," said attorney Ron Kramer.

Sean and David were playing horseshoes during a free time period when it started to rain and hail. It wasn't the first storm of their trip, which occurred during the southern Utah monsoon season. Instead of instructing the boys to take shelter in a permanent mess hall 100 feet away, as outlined in the Guide to Safe Scouting, the group scattered, Kramer said Tuesday. While some sought shelter in cars, a group of Scouts and adults headed up the ridge line.

Sean, who has asthma, fell behind. David slowed to walk with him to the campsite. Hiking alone, the boys were within 30 feet of a lean-to structure at the campsite when lightning struck David in the chest and indirectly struck Sean.

Both boys lost consciousness.

Sean awoke to find David about 10 feet away and ran to the lean-to for help. When no one could revive David, his body was placed in an ambulance with Sean.

"If they had gone into the mess hall instead of hiking to the top of the ridge, my son would be here with me," Rayborn said.

The five-day excursion to Scofield was the boy's first Scout camping trip. David had been a Scout since age 8, Sean since age 10. The 25 boys were chaperoned by parent volunteers and three local leaders called to the job by their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward. The families have no plans to sue the church, and fault the Boy Scouts for not adequately preparing local leaders to deal with lightning risks.

"I feel Scout leaders were just as misinformed as we were," Smith said.

Rayborn said Boy Scout officials told her about her son's death, but stopped communicating when she asked for their reports on his death the following month.

One goal of the suit, Kramer said, it to get information about David's death. Another is to push the organization to improve safety training and standards.

"If the Boy Scouts of America would have only followed the rules imposed, this never would have happened," Kramer said. "We're hoping to send a message that Boy Scouts and their adult leaders need to be kept safe."

The suit also seeks damages of at least $300,000.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst