Maryland agency probes camp emergency plan in wake of boy's storm death

Scene where a tree fell on a boy during a storm and killed him. (WJLA photo)

MANCHESTER, Md. (WJLA/AP) - The state agency that oversees all 800 summer camps in Maryland launched an official review Thursday into the circumstances surrounding the death of 12-year-old boy after a tree fell on him during a storm.

The deadly incident happened at the River Valley Ranch camp in Carroll County on Tuesday night.

"A tragedy like this prompts a hard look at regulations to see what can be done better," said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, who heads the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's environmental health bureau.

Camps are required to have a written plan for weather emergencies and natural disasters, but an ABC7 request to River Valley Ranch for a copy of their protocols went unanswered.

Mitchell said his office has begun an inspection of the camp, which has a valid operating permit, and will look at whether it operated in compliance with state regulations. That will include looking at any emergency plans.

Questions exist about whether camp staff moved quickly enough, given that a severe thunderstorm warning was issued about 20 minutes before the storm hit.

Amy Bettwy, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the weather service issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area including Carroll County at 5:06 p.m. Tuesday, effective until 11 p.m.

The weather service then issued two severe thunderstorm warnings that included Carroll County, and Manchester itself. The first warning was issued at 6 p.m. and encompassed the western part of the county, but its edge included Manchester, Bettwy said. The second warning was issued at 6:39 p.m. as the storm moved eastward.

The Carroll County Sheriff's Office said the boy was killed and eight other children were injured when the storm hit just before 7 p.m.

Bisset said Wednesday that he did not know if staffers had checked the forecast, but they regularly monitor the weather. He said maintained they had followed their protocol.

"It's the summertime - there are thunderstorms that come through all the time and we have protocol for what to do in case of weather," Bisset said.

The staff followed that protocol, by moving the children to a secure location as soon as they saw a storm approaching, he said. But the storm came too quickly and too violently and struck right where the children were. "It was a freak accident," he said.

"In a normal thunderstorm situation, you have time to act," Bisset added. "In this particular situation the storm moved upon us so fast. It was sunny and within a minute it was there."

Authorities have yet to release the name of the 12-year-old boy who was killed by the falling tree. He was one of 114 children, ages 7 to 12, who were in the camp's Arrowhead Woods and Fort Roller groups attending an event at an outdoor pavilion. The deceased had attended the camp previously.

Capt. Richard Hart, commander with the criminal investigation division of the sheriff's office, said a preliminary investigation of the boy's death would take about a week.

"So far, our investigation has led us to believe that it's nothing apart from an accident. So far, I don't see any negligence," Hart said. "I think Mother Nature just came down."

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