The father of a teenage girl who died from heat stroke last year while attending a youth wilderness camp has filed a lawsuit against the man who ran the camp.
Ronald M. Chase filed a suit in U.S. District Court Wednesday against Stephen A. Cartisano and the Challenger Foundation II, Cartisano's controversial program for troubled teens.Chase's suit is the first civil suit stemming from the June 26, 1990, death of Kristen Beth Chase, 16. The state has charged Cartisano with negligent homicide in Chase's death, alleging that Cartisano and Challenger failed to implement adequate safety and medical standards.
Ronald Chase accuses Cartisano and Challenger II of widespread negligence in the way the program was run, the way Kristen Chase was treated in the program and the company's disregard of previous complaints.
According to Wednesday's suit, Kristen Chase was taken from her Florida home against her will by Challenger II employees on June 23, 1990. She was taken to the Kaiparowits Plateau area in southern Utah to participate in the Challenger youth wilderness program. Ronald Chase didn't know his daughter had been forced to enroll in the program.
"Kristen Chase was not an athletic child," the suit says. "She had lived essentially at sea level with her mother for years. Her medical history, forwarded to Challenger by her mother, indicated . . . that Kristen suffered from bouts of coughing up blood, stomach pain, urinary burning and frequency, difficulty running, menstrual difficulty and a knee injury."
Despite the medical report, Kristen Chase was forced to participate in strenuous activities at the 6,000-foot elevation in extreme heat as soon as she arrived at the camp.
"Despite being upset, frightened and ill, Kristen was forced to participate in four- to five-mile hikes each day in temperatures exceeding 95 degree," according to the suit.
She was not given a proper physical exam or any conditioning activities prior to the hikes, the suit said.
The day before she died, Kristen Chase fell several times on one of the hikes, experienced knee pain and showed symptoms of heat exhaustion.
"On the evening prior to her death, Kristen told one of the Challenger counselors that she was afraid of dying in the program."
A counselor wrote on an evaluation form, "Kristen's number one short-term goal is to get out of here safe and alive," the suit says.
Camp officials forced her to participate in another five-mile hike on June 27. The hike began in the morning. By late afternoon, she showed symptoms of heat exhaustion. Her condition worsened rapidly.
When Kristen Chase stopped breathing, Challenger officials refused to contact a fully equipped medical helicopter service 30-minutes away in Page, Ariz., "because of an ongoing disagreement over an unpaid bill from Challenger to the helicopter service."
Instead, Challenger summoned a tour helicopter from Bryce Canyon, according to the complaint.
The pilot had to fly to Escalante to pick up a nurse and did not reach Kristen Chase until 6:15 p.m.
"She had already died of exertional heat stroke," the suit says.
The suit accuses Cartisano and Challenger II of negligence in kidnapping Kristen Chase from Florida, failing to give her a proper physical exam, failing to prepare her physically and emotionally for the high-altitude hikes and failing to equip the camp with proper emergency and medical supplies.
The camp did not have salt pills, water or hygienic facilities.
Kristen Chase's mother praised the Challenger II program following her daughter's death, refusing to criticize the program or Cartisano.
But a state judge appointed Ronald Chase representative of Kristen Chase's estate a few weeks ago, said Colin King, attorney for Ronald Chase.
Ronald Chase filed the suit in his capacity as his dead daughter's legal representative.
Challenger II is in bankruptcy, but the program carried liability insurance, King said. Ronald Chase seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the company's assets and insurance, as well as from Cartisano himself.
Cartisano will stand trial Sept. 16 on the misdemeanor death charge stemming from Kristen Chase's death. He has also been charged with eight counts of child abuse involving Chase and other teenagers who participated in the now-defunct program.