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Utah family suing Boy Scouts over son's death by lightning
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The parents of two South Salt Lake boys who were struck by lightning at a Scofield camp have sued the Boy Scouts of America, claiming Scout leaders were not properly trained in lightning protection.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in 4th District Court in Utah County, the parents of deceased Scout David Rayborn and his friend Sean Smith claimed the 12-year-olds should have been instructed to take shelter from a thunderstorm in a permanent structure, rather than walking to the troop's ridge-top campsite, when lightning struck the Scofield Scout Camp at Frandsen Scout Ranch on July 13, 2011.

David and Sean were playing horseshoes when a thunderstorm rolled into the camp, according to the lawsuit.

"Even though David and Sean were within 100 feet of the mess hall, a permanent structure that would have afforded them safe shelter, David and Sean, along with other Scouts and adult leaders in their troop, sought shelter hundreds of yards away at their campsite on top of a ridge, overlooking camp," the suit states.

Sean, who has asthma, fell behind the group, and David dropped back to accompany him to the campsite, the lawsuit states. The boys had been hiking alone for 12 minutes and 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. After he was unable to revive his friend, he ran to the lean-to for help. When no one could revive David, his body was placed with Sean in an ambulance.

As a result of David's traumatic death and "being placed within arms' distance of his deceased best friend, Sean suffered extreme emotional distress, including post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, which continue to this day," the suit claims.

The lawsuit seeks damages for David's death and Sean's physical and emotional injuries, claiming the tragedy could have been avoided had camp leaders been better trained to deal with lightning.

"The transient nature of these adult leaders, who in this instance, were called by ministers in their local LDS church to act as Scout leaders — sometimes only for a very short time — assured that there would be little continuity or consistency in the hazardous weather training they received," the suit argues.

The LDS Church is the largest sponsor of the Boy Scouts of America.

The Boy Scouts of America did not return a message seeking comment on Monday.

According to Neal Humphrey, a Fruit Heights resident who serves as a public charter organization representative for the Boy Scouts of America, the nonprofit organization began requiring volunteer leaders in 2010 to show they had completed mandatory training before taking Scouts on outdoor trips.

Though the Scofield Scout Camp had paid staff, Humphrey said volunteer leaders from individual troops still should have received some basic training, including instructions about adverse weather conditions.

"You still need training," he said. "In [2010], you were not supposed to register an adult leader unless they have received the training for the position."

The lawsuit accuses the Boy Scouts of America and its Orem-based Utah National Parks Council of negligence, failure to warn campers of hazardous weather, and infliction of emotional distress.

Ron Kramer, attorney for both families, said the lawsuit wasn't filed until now because it took this long to review the Boy Scouts' instructions, standards and policy guidelines to determine whether the families had a legitimate claim.

"Before you file a lawsuit, you want to have all the facts in place," he said.

The Boy Scouts of America was also named in a lawsuit filed in July involving a Scout who drowned during a summer camp scuba diving program at Bear Lake. David Christopher Tuvell, of Las Vegas, died on the same day David and Sean were struck by lightning. In addition to the Boy Scouts, the lawsuit lists several agencies and scuba-related businesses as defendants.

ealberty@sltrib.com Twitter: @erinalberty

Family alleges training of Scout leaders on hazardous weather was inadequate.
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