Facebook Twitter

PARK SERVICE ACCUSED OF COVER-UP IN DEATHS

SHARE PARK SERVICE ACCUSED OF COVER-UP IN DEATHS

The families of seven hikers have accused the National Park Service of trying to cover up its role in a 1993 tragedy that left two hikers dead and the others stranded for five days.

In a brief filed in federal court, the families have accused the government of deliberately withholding documents that would reveal the government's negligence in the tragedy.The Park Service has provided some of those documents to reporters but won't give them to the families and their attorneys.

The families of the two dead hikers and the others have sued the National Park Service and the Washington County Water Conservancy District.

The families have asked U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene to give the government 10 days to turn over the records, or give a good reason why it won't.

The attorneys want videotape of the rescue, as well as records of prior deaths and injuries. They are also seeking water-flow records - a July 27, 1993, memo regarding water releases from Kolob Reservoir and permits issued to others for the same part of the park.

The attorneys also want a study the government apparently conducted on the danger to hikers from water flow in the canyon.

Like the media, the attorneys for the hikers filed a request for the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

The attorneys filed the request six months ago. Local media filed a similar request and received many of those documents last summer.

But the government has ignored the attorneys' request, according to a motion filed in U.S. District Court.

"The Park Service's obvious motivation in withholding records from the plaintiffs has been to shield its negligent conduct from plaintiff's scrutiny. The Park Service, however, found no difficulty releasing certain of those records to the media in a transparent attempt to manipulate public perception of the tragedy," the hikers' brief says.

The Park Service gave the local media 200 pages of documents. It provided the attorneys with 170, withholding several critical documents provided to reporters, according to the brief.

The government's refusal to honor the hikers' request "threatens the fundamental principles of open government that FOIA was designed to protect," the brief says.

Greene "should send a clear message to government bureaucrats that such conduct will not be tolerated," the attorneys say.

If the government refuses to turn over certain documents, the hikers want the government to outline what's in the documents, as well as provide a detailed explanation of why, under the FOIA, it doesn't have to turn the documents over.

Three adults and five teenagers ran into trouble on July 14, 1993, during a hike in Kolob Canyon when high waters in Kolob Creek drowned two of the adults. The remaining adult and five teens were stranded in the canyon for five days.

The high water level was apparently caused by the government's release of water from Kolob Reservoir.

The families also want Greene to require the government to pay all attorney fees the families incurred trying to get the documents.

The federal government has not yet filed a reply brief.

Kim Ellis, 37, and Dave Fleischer, 27, were killed in the tragedy.