Inquiry into teen's death
Assault on student alleged
By Jonathan Nelson and Bryan Denson of The Oregonian staff
Lake County requests state help investigating because witnesses are scattered across the nation
The Lake County district attorney asked the Oregon attorney general's office Thursday to assist in what could be an expansive investigation into the death of a 15-year-old Scappoose boy in a privately run wilderness camp.
William H. Edward Lee died Monday night at a Bend hospital after instructors of the Obsidian Trails wilderness camp held him down in a remote patch of the south Central Oregon desert. An autopsy was performed Wednesday, but the results had not reached the office of Lake County District Attorney David A. Schutt on Thursday night.
"I want to read those results before I make any decision as far as releasing them," Schutt said.
The district attorney said he asked the Oregon attorney general's office for assistance in the investigation because Lake County doesn't have the budget to investigate a death in which witnesses are scattered across Oregon and the nation.
Also Thursday, the state Office for Services to Families and Children, which is responsible for protecting children from neglect and abuse, said the agency would not remove any of the other children now involved in Obsidian Trails wilderness camps in Oregon. A spokeswoman, Patricia Feeny, said the agency can do nothing without a complaint of abuse.
Lee's mother, Lynn McAward, delayed his enrollment at Scappoose High School until early February, instead sending him to the camp, according to family spokesman Jim MacFarlane, Lee's adult second-cousin. She was hoping Lee would learn self-confidence, organizational skills and how to control his anger, MacFarlane said. Obsidian Trails puts children in the outdoors under harsh survival conditions to teach them discipline and responsibility.
McAward declined to be interviewed by The Oregonian.
MacFarlane said Lee was a frail boy who, despite being 15, was the same size as his 11-year-old cousins. Lee suffered a head injury as a toddler after being involved in an automobile accident and lived with constant physical problems that required medication.
Lee was aware he was being sent to camp and wasn't afraid, MacFarlane said. His mother went so far as to pay extra money so that her son got extra attention from an Obsidian Trails staffer assigned to him. The family was told that Lee flourished the first week, said MacFarlane. Then a new field instructor arrived, and Lee slipped into his old habits.
"The family is so incredibly devastated," MacFarlane said. "He wasn't a troubled kid. Something went very, very wrong with obviously untrained personnel."
The president of Bend-based Obsidian Trials, Gregory Bodenhamer, described the four field instructors who camped with Lee and seven other students deep in the desert as young but well qualified. They were trained in first aid, CPR and the use of physical restraints, plus survival and other skills necessary for long-term stays in the remote wilderness, Bodenhamer said.
However, investigators said the Obsidian Trails staffers who phoned 9-1-1 asked for assistance in performing CPR.
Lake County authorities on Wednesday charged Charles Matthew Sharp, a 22-year-old Kansas man, of criminally negligent homicide in Lee's death. Sharp went to work for Obsidian Trails as a field instructor one month ago, said Bodenhamer, who posted bail for Sharp.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday forbid Obsidian Trails from using its lands in Central Oregon until the criminal case is resolved.
Bodenhamer said he was emotionally traumatized by Lee's death. He refused to assign blame in the incident because the cause of death is unknown, and he said Sharp did nothing wrong.
"One day, he's a young man with a bright future -- a graduate from a Christian university with a new wife," Bodenhamer said. "And the next day, a student has died -- he's arrested and in jail. He's traumatized."
Bodenhamer pieced together the Monday night incident after talks with his staff and described Lee's death this way:
A field instructor escorted "Eddie," as Lee was known, away from the group campsite to a spot where he could urinate. But when it came time to return, Lee refused. A staffer radioed the head instructor, and she hiked out to have a talk. Still Lee refused to return to camp.
The instructors gave Lee an ultimatum: Come back to camp, or they would take him back. When he refused, the instructors took him by the arms. Lee dropped to the ground, taking the instructors with him.
Sharp straddled the boy, who lay face down on the ground, putting his weight on Lee's hips. Sharp's wife, who also is an instructor, held the boy's legs with another staffer.
"Eddie tried to bite Charles," Bodenhamer said.
Then Lee stopped breathing. The instructors began CPR and then, using a cellular phone, called for an emergency helicopter. Students helped clear a landing pad for the chopper, which flew Lee to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, where he died.
Bodenhamer said he spoke with Lee's grief-stricken mother Tuesday, and she did not blame him or Obsidian Trails.
Lee's friends and family members remembered him as a boy who loved to make people laugh. But when he was reprimanded or corrected, the smiling child disappeared, MacFarlane said.
Lee had a temper, he said, but it took a long time to reach the flashpoint: "People said if Ed had a fuse, it was five miles long."
Peter Sleeth of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report. You can reach Jonathan Nelson at 503-366-3372 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
You can reach Bryan Denson at 503-294-7614 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.