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HIKER’S DEATH BLAMED ON HEATSTROKE

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A teenage girl who collapsed while hiking in the Challenger Foundation wilderness program for troubled youths died of "exertional heatstroke," the state medical examiner has ruled.

Kane County Sheriff Max Jackson said Thursday evening, however, that it isn't likely any criminal charges will be filed in the June 27 death of Kristen Chase, 16, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.Jackson said the facts will be reviewed by Kane County Attorney Jim Scarth, but the evidence seems to indicate that the Challenger Foundation was not negligent.

"What was reasonable and prudent, they tried to do," Jackson said, referring to four Challenger employees who were with Chase when she died.

Chase, the employees and three other youths had been on a 4 1/2-mile day hike on Fifty Mile Mountain south of Escalante when, about 4 p.m., the girl complained of abdominal cramps and dizziness.

The employees placed Chase in the shade for a short time and poured water over her head. The others offered to carry her, but she said she would walk on her own, said Jackson, who interviewed all of those involved in the hike. The hike took place on a day in which temperatures approached 100 degrees.

Within a few minutes, Chase collapsed.

"She became delirious and started saying things like `I want to lie down on the rug here.' She said she was dying and that she didn't want to die. She saw monsters. . . . It was a pretty scary deal for everybody."

A short time afterward, she stopped breathing, at which point one of the employees, who is CPR certified, began administering the life-saving technique.

A Challenger-leased helicopter, with a Panguitch nurse aboard, arrived an hour later, but Chase could not be revived.

Jackson said the autopsy revealed no trace of drugs and only a slight, non-critical deficiency of electrolytes. Her body tissues contained adequate water, tests showed.

"She had plenty of water on the hike and she was drinking it," Jackson said.

The autopsy found she had a large amount of hemorrhage in her small intestine, a symptom of heatstroke in which small blood vessels become damaged and leak.

Although Chase's death was unusual, the sheriff said, "It's liable to happen again. I think parents need to know there's an inherent risk in these (wilderness) programs."

Exertional heatstroke can occur in healthy young people who are engaged in strenuous activity in a hot environment, said State Medical Examiner Todd Grey. The body shuts down its cooling system and, although the skin feels cool to the touch, the body's core heats to excessive temperatures.