Clay and Sean's Message of Courage and Inspiration from Another Country

This month marks the sixth anniversary of the deaths of Clay McKemie and Sean Wilkinson from Rome, Georgia. Clay and Sean were my son's age at the time, and I connected with their smiling, school-picture faces on CNN. There were so many things that went wrong that day, all results of poor preparation and judgment of one man, the school's trip leader, Steve Hall. The final blow was dealt when Hall, due to bad weather, changed the trip's course to include the use of canoes and kayaks in the choppy ~50-degree ocean waters. Hall's only means of communication on this trip was his personal cellphone, and in this part of the ocean, there was no service. Clay and Sean were doomed when they got separated from the group. Yet, Hall supposedly had 20+ years of "expert" experience. (Though he was solely responsible for their deaths, not only did Hall not have his license revoked, but he has gone on to work for Wasatch Academy, a private boarding school in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, in an official capacity as Outdoor Recreation Coordinator.)

We, as parents, often let and encourage our children to take part in school and extracurricular activities that are character building. Sometimes, we even sign disclaimers acknowledging our acceptance of certain risks. And, we're rarely experts. The parents of the children on this trip didn't even get the opportunity to approve of Mr. Hall's egomaniacal plan. I also think that, because this was a private school situation, certain assumptions were made about the caliber of equipment and employee in charge, and rightfully so. But what if a parent at Hall's current school wanted to find out about his experience and past? Don't they have a right to know about Clay and Sean?

Every year around this time, I am convinced that the boys reach out to me. Over the weekend, Nick Crowhurst, who was camped about 30 miles from Suwanee when the tragedy occurred, posted here. He and his wife have written a guide book to sea-kayaking on the part of the ocean where Clay and Sean were killed called "Florida's Hidden Coast". It can be found here: http://www.hiddencoast.blogspot.com/. I want to repost here, with his permission, some of what Mr. Crowhurst wrote (his original comment is here). He has given me courage to keep the information here about Hall and new inspiration to learn what can be done in this country to provide resources for parents so we don't have to put so much trust into school leaders about whom there is no formal place for public information. Thank you, Mr. Crowhurst. And thank you, Clay and Sean. 

"I have been haunted by this dreadful incident throughout the period since it occurred. To explain why I am posting this, and my qualifications for so doing, I need to explain some of my history....have spent the last thirteen winters exploring this region by sea kayak, and the past fifty years paddling, offshore sailing, rock climbing and mountaineering whenever work permitted. Our book details 16 sea-kayak day paddles, one of which details the trip the boys were attempting to make, from Suwannee to Coon Island. I have British Canoe Union qualifications in sea kayaks (4*) and canoes (2*). I retired after a career in the British Police Service, latterly as a Chief Superintendent.

Risk cannot be eliminated from our lives, but it can be managed. We accept the risk of allowing our children to travel in motor vehicles, even though this is a major cause of child deaths. Children need to learn to deal with risk, and to balance these risks with the rewards gained. Some risk-taking is thus beneficial, within limits. My son, when a young teenager, followed me on many multi-pitch high grade rock climbs in circumstances which would horrify most parents who lacked specialist knowledge. I will happily take a granddaughter through the early stages of kayak training, and then introduce her to waves and rocks on the sea, when, of course, she is wearing a wetsuit, a crash helmet, a PFD and a sprayskirt, and has a ratio of two supervisors to the one child. Incidents of danger still occur. I give these details to indicate that I seek the adrenaline of risk, but only when the "dumb risks" have been eliminated. These can be eliminated by gradual training, good and appropriate equipment, increasing experience, and, above all, humility in the face of the immense power of nature.

Parents of children offered the chance to partake in such "adventure activities" are in a very difficult position, as they will probably lack the specialist knowledge required to assess the risk of the activity. I, for instance, could not assess the risk involved in a school trip involving horse-riding. In the case of a suggested trip from Suwannee to Coon Island for my young son, I do have the necessary knowledge, so I would seek answers to these questions:

1. What are the qualifications and experience of the trip leaders? (I would require advanced and appropriate qualifications from the ACA (American Canoe Association) or BCU and for first aid from a minimum of two supervisors for this trip)

2. How many support craft will there be, and, if powered, do they have auxiliary means of propulsion in case of breakdown, as well as anchors, flares,smoke signals,lights, strobes, compasses, GPS? (Two support craft would be a minimum in this case)

3. Are there several fall-back plans to deal with bad weather, illness, exhaustion or lack of emotional control? In strong offshore winds, which appear safe but are a greater danger than onshore winds, alternative campsites could be pre-arranged at Suwannee, Munden Camp or Cat Island, very close to the mouth of the Suwannee.

3. Are the boats supplied fit for purpose? Canoes are out of the question on this coast. They are too much affected by wind, and would be uncontrollable by young inexperienced children. Are the kayaks fitted with watertight buoyancy, reflective tape, sprayskirt, towing facility, deck-lines, and are they of suitable design and condition?

4. Have the children received prior training to fit them for the purpose? ACA and BCU approved training will provide whatever levels of skill are required. At a minimum, capsize and escape and rescue procedures, and basic stroke-making need to be trained.

5. Will the children be properly clothed and equipped for the worst case scenario of immersion in the anticipated water temperature after capsize? Wetsuits would be a minimum, with wind-proof outer garments, skull-caps and gloves and well-designed specialist PFDs. Each child should wear a strobe, and carry a waterproof torch, and have proven ability to swim 50 yards in the clothing. Spare dry clothing in drybags and emergency food and water should be carried.

6. What are the communication arrangements, either routinely or in emergency? Each supervisor should have a waterproof hand-held VHF set with an agreed boat to boat working channel on dual watch with channel 16. A spare VHF set and batteries should be carried within the leaders.Cellphones should be carried, in waterproof containers, but cellphone coverage in this area is the exception, rather than the rule.VHF communication, which is line-of-sight, with a range of perhaps 4 miles from a small boat, is problematic in this remote area. In case of emergency, an EPIRB or PLB is vital in each support craft. My current PLB cost about $250. At the touch of a button, the international marine rescue organisation is alerted by satellite of my identity, my accurate GPS position, and that I am in distress. It also sends out a VHF signal for homing-in on my position. This is an incredible facility, particularly at the price.It is the ultimate "get out of jail" card.

7. Who is the shore contact in possession of the float plan and details of the party, to act as an information point for parents or the Coastguard, and how is that person contactable?

I could go on with a list of further questions, but I think I've made my point. The non-specialist parent cannot hope to know all this detail. So, what's to be done? A very similar tragedy occurred in England in 1993, near where we live. It is known as the Lyme Bay Canoe Tragedy, and Googling will find many references. One excellent one is here: http://www.aals.org.uk/lymebay01.html This describes the prosecution of the adults involved, and the eventual setting up of a national statutory body to regulate such activities, and help prevent such disasters. This may give food for thought to those considering these issues in the USA.

In the absence of such controls, I would advocate that parents should obtain as much information as possible about a possible trip, and submit these details to an independent qualified source for comment. For example, a well-qualified ACA or BCU instructor would look to be satisfied that all the above questions, and more, were satisfactorily covered. As to the future, extra political control and public expense via legislation is not likely to be popular, I guess. A website could contain recommendations for each sport for parents making such decisions. Each entry would need to be created by someone with particular experience in each activity, of course. I am deeply grateful for your original posts. I could not believe I was alone in my incredulity at this incident, nor could I understand the lack of judicial inquiry."

Judith Van Meter has a Class D Felony and Steve Hall is Wasatch Academy’s Choice for their Faculty Spotlight

In August 2007, a 63-year-old school bus driver in a suburb of Indianapolis left a 5-year-old child on the bus. The little girl slept for five hours before walking into school. She never expressed any fear and was fine. The driver was charged with Neglect of a Dependent, which is a Class D Felony. She was fired. Her license was revoked ending her long career. She was ordered to serve 100 days in jail (she was able to serve house arrest because she was the sole caretaker of her ailing parents) and was put on probation for an additional 445 days. She was also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and has to pay all fines and court costs.

In February 2005, an English teacher at Darlington School, a private school in Rome, Georgia, led an outdoor excursion during which he changed the course to one that required the kids to be in the ocean in kayaks and canoes. The only communication device was his personal cell phone, the water temperature was 58 degrees, numerous severe weather warnings had been issued, and he got not one parent’s permission. His decision killed two boys, Clay McKemie and Sean Wilkinson. Darlington’s attorneys showed up at the Florida church where families were awaiting word on the boys. Prosecutors decided not to prosecute.....

Read More

Five Years Like Yesterday

How can it be that it was five years ago when I first came across Clay McKemie and Sean Wilkinson’s beautiful and happy school picture faces on CNN? I remember where I was so vividly. I see my office and my desk, I see the headlines, and I see the dozens of online reports in my head. School trip gone horribly wrong. Missing boys. Florida ocean. Coast Guard.

People still ask me why I felt so haunted by their story. I tell them about my connection to Rome, Georgia, having lived there for five years in the mid-nineties, but more than that, I tell them about my son who was also 15 at the time. I saw his face in theirs. Then, of course, there was the unmitigated gall of Steve Hall, the trip leader who was in the local paper two days after the boys were found dead running around the field and telling reporters at a Darlington soccer game how much fun he was having coaching the team. (Of course, by this time, anyone involved had been told to not discuss anything with anyone by Darlington lawyers. And not talk, they did. As a result, Hall went unpunished for what was so blatantly criminal negligence.)

It worried me that no parent could easily get information about Hall before sending their child on a trip he was leading. So, I posted what I knew and how I felt here.

I get traffic hits all the time from people googling Clay and Sean. I am so happy that they are remembered by people all over the country (and world, actually). I also get a slew of hits from searches about Darlington School, Wasatch Academy and Steve Hall, and each time, I hope it’s a mother investigating and changing her mind.

And I admit that I get a little hitch in my giddy-up when Steve or Chris Hall stop by to check on me. It means that they are thinking of that night, that weekend, that week. Not in the way people with consciences would, of course, but it’s something, and I’ll take it.

Every time my son has a typical life milestone, I think of Clay and Sean. And I think about their mothers and sisters and brothers, who are strong and funny and full of life and love and faith. And who will grieve forever. And I thank God for the Internet because, through all of this, I got to know them just a little.

Offer to Pay Your Wasatch Academy 'Out and Beyond' Colorado Trip Cancellation Fee

Holy Crap, he’s at it again.

Wasatch Academy leaders know that their employee’s actions killed two kids while employed at Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, yet they have allowed Steve Hall to start a program at their school called "Out and Beyond" and schedule a trip involving water for August 9th. ***UPDATE: The link was removed from the school Website on July 23, 2008, but a PDF of the trip announcement is here and a PDF of their front page with the audacious link is here. I'd like to believe the trip has been cancelled, but that would indicate signs of a conscience I'm not sure exists.*** Even Darlington, albeit after much pressure, made Hall cease and desist. It couldn’t be clearer deja-vu.

Hall’s an egomaniac – I understand how he dares to repeat himself – after all, he never took the slightest of breaks in planning or conducting trips for kids since 2005 (can you imagine?), was at a Darlington soccer game laughing it up four days after the boys’ bodies were found (can you imagine?), and has the thoughtfulness to announce his first official "Out and Beyond" outing the same month that Clay and Sean would have graduated high school. There are devils amongst us, I know. But the school.

What's their reasoning? I have to hope that they have numerous other, and more rational, leaders on this trip, and Hall won't be in charge of anything. He's listed as the main contact, but maybe he's just the organizer - the paperwork pusher - and not going on the trip at all. Unfortunately, the over-the-top trip description screams Hall.

Like it says: Call 435/462-1420 or e-mail steve.hall@wacad.org to ask questions. I’d be willing to bet that, if asked, he would have trouble remembering February 2005 or Clay and Sean at all. I'd suggest that you contact Joe Loftin, the Headmaster, at josephlo@wacad.org or a Board Member. I did, but it now looks like I got nowhere. I'm just one stranger in Indiana, after all, but I would imagine a parent's questions might be better received.

We learned too late from the Darlington experience that the only answers are communication among the parents and their questions and demands of school leaders. Unfortunately, this is the rub. Parents sending their children to private schools are understandably more likely to assume the school their child attends would only employ the cream of the crop.

So, I pray. And hope that a few diligent Wasatch parents research the trip leaders and make their own educated decisions.

And for these diligent ones who find this post, I also offer this: If you have already signed up for this trip and decide not to send your child, email me and I’ll pay your cancellation and non-refundable fees. Send me your proof of cancellation and notification to the school of the reason for your cancellation, and I’ll send you the money you paid.

Apparently, the balance is due today and you can be refunded up to 21 days prior to August 9th.

Until then, I pray that all 10 kids’ parents contact me. After August 9th, I can only watch and pray from a distance, which is what I will do, as long as Steve Hall is allowed to be in the wilderness with other people's children.

Hoping for the best

How does it work? There’s an obvious, open-and-shut case. A district attorney decides not to prosecute. Based on what? The law? I wonder.

A case struck me recently about a public school bus driver here who left a 5-year-old child on the bus all day.

The little girl sat right behind the bus driver, but never said, “Hey don’t forget me!” They say she was extremely shy, which makes that understandable, so the kid spent six hours sleeping and playing on the bus. And she’s JUST FINE!

Now, I do understand that the driver is responsible and should be punished. If this were her only questionable incident (prior issues have come to light), one might expect a job loss or at least a revocation of her bus driving privileges for a period of time.

In this case, though, the bus driver is being prosecuted for neglect of a dependent, which is a Class D Felony and could result in 6 years in prison. The school system is in an affluent suburb, but, it is still a public school system. There is nobody to rush to the driver’s defense. There is nobody with any power to sway the DA not to prosecute.

Yet, nobody died or was even seriously injured.

So how does a person understand a 2005 case in which an English teacher at an obscure private school in Georgia was not prosecuted for making inexcusable, blatantly neglectful, and fatal (two boys died) decisions while leading an outdoor excursion for the school?

Death. Permanent psychological injury to a dozen or so kids and their families. Prior issues came to light in this case as well. Still, no prosecution. No loss of job. Not even a legal demand to stop future excursions.

And, now, two years later, since there is no record or even a resume ding to prevent it, this teacher, with the judgment and conscience of a toddler, was able to seek out and land a job as the official Outdoor Coordinator with another obscure school in the middle of nowhere.

So, how to understand....

I can only gather that district attorneys pick and choose what they will spend their time and resources prosecuting based on both legal and non-legal reasons.

And that, because of the non-legal reasons, there will never be unambiguous justice throughout our legal system. It’s just the way it is and has been particularly since the beginning of cronyism, money and the law.

So, lucky are we bystanders and witnesses who just get to keep hoping for the best.

If only...

Today would be Clay McKemie’s birthday. He would be a Senior this year and enjoying his last birthday lunch with his high school buddies in the cafeteria, probably talking about the weekend and college applications. Plus, this year, his birthday falls on a Friday, which would make it perfect for celebrating along with after-school games, events, and parties.

If only.

In honor of his (and Sean Wilkinson’s) memory, I want to post this note to encourage any parent who stumbles upon my blog (and I thank you) to be vigilant and diligent about information.

Obviously, we shouldn’t make decisions without information. But when information isn’t available, how can we, as parents, make responsible decisions - decisions about things that would never even cross our minds?

Please, please, please read and search and TALK, TALK, TALK to each other. We can speak our minds, voice our opinions, and communicate our thoughts. We can ask our questions loudly and boldly. We can tell people about our own experiences. We can tell people what we’ve read, what we know, what we’ve heard, what we’ve seen. We can offer to them what we would and wouldn’t do and why.

Just imagine what might be different. Of course, nothing changes for Clay and Sean’s families, but we might change the future for another family. Clay (and Sean, and the families, of course) would really like that, I think.

I can’t even express how happy that would make me. This, my blog/diary/column/opinion/editorial/voice, has never been intended to be negative or controversial, but to be used for freelance marketing and original expression. I think both are apparent to the reasonable reader. And if God’s plan is that any of my beliefs, opinions, or unanswered questions (I’m known for those!) about any of the hodgepodge of topics here resonate with a visitor and possibly spark a connection for conversation, I am grateful.

But, supremely, I am grateful for Clay and Sean telling me their stories from 500 miles away. I think of them always and I know I always will.

Today, I remember and celebrate both boys’ birthdays. Today, from now on, and in nothing but Love.

For Wasatch Academy Parents

Some still active Google search results relating to the Rome Georgia boating tragedy killing Sean Wilkinson and Clay McKemie, which was led by Steve Hall, former Darlington teacher who now works as Outdoor Recreation Coordinator at Wasatch Academy in Utah (as of 9/21/2007).

As of November 2007, the school has been made aware of Hall’s past and asked to take extra precautions. They have understandably and predictably “lawyered-up”. There is a liability release form on their website for parents to sign before letting their children participate in rigorous excursions. Now that the school is informed, I wouldn't imagine that it would hold much weight if something terrible happened, but who knows. I just hope they are legally able to at least hire a more reasonable chaperone for the chaperone.

http://www.stpetetimes.com/2005/03/01/Tampabay/Trip_paddled_into_dan.shtml

St Pete Times witness and Coast Guard quotes (in case the above link is removed)

https://www.piersystem.com/external/index.cfm?cid=586&fuseaction=EXTERNAL.docview&documentID=64966 (Yankeetown) Coast Guard Press Release

http://news.mywebpal.com/news_tool_v2.cfm?pnpid=680&show=archivedetails&ArchiveID=1090664&om=1

Rome News Tribune 2005-03-02 (PDF) Cell phone!

http://news.mywebpal.com/news_tool_v2.cfm?pnpid=680&show=archivedetails&ArchiveID=1093029&om=1

Rome News Tribune 2005-03-11 Lady Tigers 9-0 (PDF)

Rome News Tribune 2005-03-02 (PDF)

Rome News Tribune 2005-03-16 (PDF)

http://queensbury.injuryhelpline.com/index.rwl?category=news&section=wrongful+death&article=florida+officials+say+boating+trip+was+not+properly+planned&id=195

http://www.woodenboatvb.com/vbulletin/upload/archive/index.php/t-43531.html

http://lists.infoteam.com/pipermail/paddle/2005/000113.html

http://www.staugustine.com/stories/030105/sta_2920408.shtml

http://articles.latimes.com/2005/mar/02/nation/na-rome2

LA Times Article 2005-03-02 (PDF)

http://lists.infoteam.com/pipermail/paddle/2005/000114.html

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2005/mar/03/ndn_official__poor_planning_in_florida_boating_tri/

http://www.thebackpacker.com/trailtalk/thread/36892,-1.php 

http://www.wichitapaddler.com/Articles/CNN_WetExitDeaths.pdf

http://www.xanga.com/Remember_Clay

http://www.christianindex.org/1125.article

http://wmac-am.com/news/2005/feb05/022805_students%20mourn.htm

http://www.darlingtonschool.org/Alumni/letterView.asp?letterID=134 

http://www.kayakforum.com/cgi-bin/Technique/indexh.cgi/noframes/read/22698

I think it's the water

I'm convinced that all the trouble with the ground water in Rome, Georgia, has created some of the scariest minds I've come across in my 44 years. I could write a book (ha). This is just another (and more serious) example.

I tried to see if the Editorial Page Editor of the Rome News-Tribune would publish my plea to Rome or Darlington parents to contact Wasatch Academy if they had any information or experiences to share. After a lengthy exchange with him - which ended in nothing more than insult lobs (one he liked was about my not being "local" (that one makes me laugh, because he has no idea how grateful I am that I was able to escape the asylum that is Rome) - this is just one part of his last email.

I sensed a diversion of attention to the idea that kids die even on trips with their parents (to which I ask myself: what about the parents of Clay and Sean who had NO idea that the trip leader, Steve Hall, was going to put their children in the Atlantic Ocean in t-shirts and shorts and canoes and kayaks on a stormy day in February (48F water temp))?

And "what not"?

I'm not sure why "Rome" should "get involved" without there being a concrete reason for this. Certainly, you could try to address the general topic of whether parents should send their kids on such outdoor excursions no matter who is allegedly looking after them. However, keep in mind that before our society started relying so much on surrogates for parenting duties, lots of kids died on "camping trips" with mom and dad … drowning, fallen off cliffs, eaten by bears and what not. However, not having a reason to drag Darlington into this, except perhaps obliquely, I'm not sure how "local" the end result would be for someone removed from this area. (Whereas we would consider a local parent worrying about this, etc.).

Email Two Years Later

(Director of Communications! I can only pray that Wasatch has no emergencies!)

-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Hall [mailto:chris.hall@wacad.org]
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2007 12:33 PM
To: Karen Rutherford
Subject: Re: Email

I am the same. I'm so sorry but I don't seem to remember you! Can I help you in some way?

Chris Hall
Director of Communications
Wasatch Academy
435.462.1455

----- Original Message -----
From: Karen Rutherford <krutherf@comcast.net>
To: <chris.hall@wacad.org>
Cc:
Date: Tuesday, September 11 2007 10:31 AM
Subject: Email
Hello,

I was just wondering if you're the same Chris Hall from Rome, Georgia, married to Steve Hall who taught at Darlington?

If so, I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks!

Karen Rutherford

Why do we make martyrs out of the criminally negligent?

Yesterday, at the beauty shop, Donna and I made typical beauty shop conversation while she cut my hair. We talked about her vacation to New York City the week before. She hated it. She hated the crowds, the smells, the hassles, the noise, the people. She also spent some time in New Jersey visiting relatives and hated that too. Mostly, in New Jersey, it was the driving that made her nuts.

“People drove so fast and they just didn’t seem to care that there were other people on the road,” she explained.

“I had the same experience when we went to Boston a couple of years ago. I remember driving 75mph in the slow lane on the highway and even those people honked constantly wanting to pass me,” I agreed. “Of course, some of that goes on here in Indianapolis,” I added.

“Oh, I know it. Isn’t your son getting ready to drive?” she asked me.

I told her that he was 15, thought he was ready for his learner’s permit and it all scared me to death. We talked a minute about kids driving and the subject led to people driving while talking on cell-phones. “They have a no-cell-phone-while-driving law in New Jersey now. I wish we had that here,” she said.

And then she went on to tell me about a client of hers who recently was driving on I-465 in Indianapolis. He was talking on his cell-phone and drove into the lane next to him, hitting and killing a motorcycle driver instantly.

”That’s just so tragic. So senseless. Did anything happen to your client?” I asked.

“No, there are no laws against cell-phone usage while driving here, so there was no criminal intent and no charges against him.”

By this time, there were four other women in the shop listening, but so far none had made a comment.

“But, you know, the family of the guy on the motorcycle is now suing him. Poor thing. He’s got a lot of money and they’re going to make sure they get some of it.”

One of the other women shook her head in disgust and said, “Oh, that’s such a shame.” Then the other three and Donna made a few more “such a shame” and “that could just ruin him” comments before the subject was changed.

But I was stuck. I couldn’t move on to the next subject yet. What they had essentially said was that now the true victim was her client. That it was as if the motorcycle driver had purposefully put himself in that exact spot at that exact time so his family could get some money from his (unintentional, yet criminally negligent) killer. And, in the process, the community needed to show their support of him. It would be wrong for the man to have to pay, financially or otherwise. Hadn’t he paid enough? Hadn’t he suffered enough?

Had he?

Who am I to judge?

I couldn’t think of a thing to say in response to this group for fear of someone quoting Bible verses to me about judgment. And besides, they were already two subjects ahead of me. But most of all I was just scared to voice my unpopular opinion.

See, the same thing had happened not a week before. And I had spoken up, unfortunately.

Three months ago, an outdoor guide/teacher at a prep school in Georgia led a group of students on a spring break excursion to Suwanee and Coon Island. Part of their trek required a 4.5 mile trip skirting the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. He had been a guide for over 25 years and had made this particular trip several times. But on February 26, 2005, he ignored weather reports and Coast Guard warnings, and chose to lead the group into the ocean. When their one motorized boat failed, two of the boys floated away in their kayaks and died. Their bodies were found 13 miles out in the Gulf two days later. The boys were dressed in t-shirts and shorts, there was only a cell-phone for communication, there were many mistakes made by this "expert" guide, and there were several problems with sub-par craft making the trip precarious in the first place according to outdoor experts.

But most importantly, the leader ignored the weather reports of the “worst storm of the season so far” that morning and led the entire group to what could have been all their deaths. It became a blessing that they all didn’t die. According to the guide’s town, he truly was a hero. In May, the guide/teacher received a community award for all he’s done for kids over the years.

My question that I needed an answer to (probably because I have a son the same age as these poor boys) was that of arrogance. A man who ignores the weather and risks eight kids’ lives has to have quite the ego. In addition, he was vehemently coaching his soccer team (another one of his school activities) before the boys were even buried. He was quoted in the paper about the “fun” he was having watching them play.

So, I spoke up. I emailed him my questions and he responded. He said that there were legal proceedings in progress preventing him from talking about it. I assumed someone was suing him or the school.

Then his wife and his website creator emailed me. She mentioned his suffering, his welcomed attendance at the funerals, the nurturing support and good works he’d done for hundreds of children over the years, how wrong I was for judging someone else, and how much of an “idiot” I was for badgering him. The website friend talked about how much the community loved and respected him, quoted Bible verses about judging people and told me he’d “see me in hell’. Both mentioned that it was a shame that anyone would want civil justice for this tragedy, and that the town insisted that he continue taking kids on trips so this one tragedy wouldn’t turn into another.

So, accidents happen every day. People’s negligence causes other people to die every day. But how does the negligent person become the victim? When did this happen? Is it because of money? Is it because we value money more than we do human life and that it is more of a detriment to lose?

It can’t be about Christian forgiveness and the sin of judgment , because why would someone quoting Bible verses about judgment banish me to hell?

And what about judgment? If we don’t judge each other, do right and wrong even exist?

If there were no judgment, wouldn’t there be no jails? Wouldn’t murderers, serial killers and pedophiles live among us, stand next to us at church, shop at the same places, drive on our streets, teach our children? Shouldn’t they, according to the Bible?

Or is legal judging different than Christian judging? Are they two different things in the eyes of Christians? In the eyes of God? Does this mean that we should leave all judgment to God? Or do we leave it in the hands of the legal system? Then we as ordinary people should not have any opinion other than the law?

We should then stop voicing our opinions? Is that how this country was founded? Is that how civilizations throughout history have conducted themselves? Is that what was done at the Crucifixion? Nobody was supposed to judge or have opinions about the crucifiers? Is this correct? Is this moral? Is this really how God meant it?

And if we do have an opinion/pass judgment on another, are we then, according to the Bible, worse sinners than the offender?

Because I judge the criminally negligent as I do, does God now feel worse about me than he feels about them?

But back to my original question: why do we make martyrs out of the criminally negligent? I suppose my answer would have to be because of our subjective interpretation of Christian doctrine and our glory of money. What a combination.

Email from the Orr Treks Webmaster (from a fake address)

****This came from an anonymous, fictitious email address.
I originally sent TWO "pesky" emails to Steve Hall. His wife
emailed me and would not let up. This warranted this person, who
actually thinks Hall's grief (apparent on the soccer field) was comparable
to the families' grief, banishing me to hell. Still, nobody has disputed of
the facts.****

From: John Stone [noresponseaddy@yahoo.com]
Sent: Monday, June 27, 2005 4:12 PM
To: krutherf@comcast.net
Subject: Orr Treks

I am the web-master for www.orrtreks.com.  I was asked
to block your address from the servers as a result of
your masturbatory pestering; which was quite apparent
as I wasted a few moments to read several of your
messages.  I figured while I was on a roll, I'd waste
a few more to drop you a quick line of my own accord;
although I am certain it is merely piss in the wind -
just as it is quite clear that there is nothing the
town of Rome, Darlington School, or the Hall family
can do to satisfy your unquenchable desire for
self-importance.

Unlike you, I was there in Suwannee shortly after the
boys were found, I was in attendance at both funerals,
and I was a first-hand witness to the unspeakable
grief experienced by the entire community and Mr.
Hall; whose sadness could only be paralleled by that
of the families.  I'm sure all involved are very
thankful for your accusatory concern; which you should
henceforth reserve for issues that you know something
about.

Where do you live again? Indiana? (Oh - this is
rhetorical.  I get enough e-mails without the
assistance of muckrakers like yourself)

I have noticed that you seem to be a sister of the
Christian persuasion.  As such, I made an attempt to
look at the situation through your eyes, and turned to "the Good Book" for guidance.  I found the following:

"Judge not, that ye be not judged." - Matthew 7:1
"There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to
destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" - James
4:12
"For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged:
and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to
you again." - Matthew 7:2

I'm sure you know that there are plenty more of that
flavor...but the dead horse is beaten.

See you in hell.

Emails from Chris Hall (the wife)

From: Chris Hall [clhall@bellsouth.net]
Sent: Sunday, June 26, 2005 3:15 PM
To: Karen Rutherford
Subject: Re: From Steve Hall's Wife


You're right because you're an idiot.
 
 
From: Karen Rutherford [krutherf@comcast.net]
Sent: Sunday, June 26, 2005 1:34 PM
To: Chris Hall
Subject: RE: From Steve Hall's Wife


His good works? Let me think. A drunk driver goes 364 days in a given year without killing anyone through his own negligence and arrogance. On the 365th day, he kills someone. But you want the world to celebrate those first 364 days of luck, right? Is that what you're saying? Please tell me you're kidding.
 
You're the same wife who told her husband to not speak to reporters anymore after he spoke of the fun he was having on the soccer field within the week of the boys' deaths, right? You're the same wife who mentioned to reporters that your husband would not be speaking to anyone until charges were cleared, right? I don't think you want to talk to me about Christianity or doing the right thing or having a life. Please don't tell me that because I voiced my opinion that your husband should be in jail that you're accusing me of having no life. How does one who thinks clearly make this connection?
 
I think I have as many facts as anyone does. Were you there that night? Did you read the articles? Did you read Coast Guard accounts of the inept decisions your husband made that night? You do realize that a child had to coax your husband into helping the boys in the first place? You do realize that the Weather Channel reported at noon CST that the storm was coming - "the worst storm of the season thus far", right? You do realize that your incredibly wonderfully admired husband ignored that and chose to lead children into what could have been all their deaths? What if they had all died?
 
Stop playing the victim, honey. Two boys died SOLELY and COMPLETELY because of your husband. I think you deserve more attacks than just mine. Your husband deserves to be in jail.
 
No life? You're sorry for me? Why do you feel sorry for me? I'm not sure I understand that one. It seems to me that you should be sorry for the McKemies and the Wilkinsons, not me. I appreciate your sympathy, but it's a little misguided, don't you think?
 
I simply voiced my opinion of your husband. I don't understand people like him and I never will. I hate that people like him exist. I had to speak up. It never ceases to amaze me how people like you and your husband can, in their own wretched minds, twist things around so that an innocent bystander is now at fault. I suppose it helps, along with soccer, Darlington, and those 250 letters, get you through your miserable days to come.
 
Your email doesn't even mention a tragedy. Amazing.  Again, no responsibility whatsoever. You should be ashamed as well. Don't worry though. I'll see this through.

One other analogy that might make sense to you...
 
Your husband puts all the kids in a shark tank. One kid gets out and tries to convince your husband to save the rest. Together, they save a few, but can't save all.
 
You want credit for your husband in saving the ones that he could, right?  And take zero responsibility for putting the kids in danger in the first place, right? And then blame someone else for questioning his actions and decisions, right?
 
I've made my point, so it's useless to continue. Judging by the content of your email, it probably doesn't make sense to you anyway.


-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Hall [mailto:clhall@bellsouth.net]
Sent: Sunday, June 26, 2005 1:01 PM
To: krutherf@comcast.net
Subject: From Steve Hall's Wife


You, my dear "Christian", need to get a life of your own.  My husband has suffered enough without you psychos badgering about events that you know nothing about.  Ah, 'tis easy for you to sit back in your comfortable easy chair and make judgements against his good works.   I have over two hundred letters from students and parents that have participated on his trips from the last 25 years, all stating how he has positively changed their lives in some way.   What have you done in your boring little lifetime to have changed and helped nurture so many young lives??  You weren't out there that tragic night.  You have no idea of the real facts.  You obviously don't know what the hell you're talking about.  Before attacking someone else about something so devastating, please make sure you have ALL the facts.
 
I'm so sorry for you.  Get a life.
Take Care,
Chris Hall

First Emails

_________________________

From: Steve Hall [SHall@darlingtonschool.org]
Sent: Sunday, June 26, 2005 9:09 AM
To: Karen Rutherford
Subject: RE: trips

I cannot talk about it now. Legal reasons. When that is resolved I will respond.


-----Original Message-----
From: Karen Rutherford [mailto:krutherf@comcast.net]
Sent: Sat 6/25/2005 9:00 PM
To: Steve Hall
Subject: RE: trips
 
Obviously, even you haven't come up with a justification for your actions.

I had to finalize this by saying that it would've been less telling had you
not sent your attempt at a diversionary reply. My judgment was obviously
dead-on because only arrogance would allow you to ever deny the
responsibility that you have to know is yours.

My reason for emailing was simply to let you know that there are people out
there who, while understanding tragic accidents, also understand the
significant part you played in Sean and Clay's deaths.

I understand people like you exist, unfortunately, I just get confused at an
entire community not speaking out loudly against its vile members who
attend, coach and discuss with reporters, soccer games 4 days after they
find the bodies of children who absolutely did not have to die, but did
solely because of your decisions.

I'm sure it is a comfort to someone like you to have Darlington (a
Christian?) school that can have such a legalistic and universal impact on
what's right and wrong in your community.

Enjoy your community award and all your future trips. I hope they, like
soccer, help get you through each morning of the rest of your life waking up
to the fact that two children died as a direct result of your arrogance.

Karen Rutherford


-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Hall [mailto:SHall@darlingtonschool.org]
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 7:25 AM
To: Karen Rutherford
Subject: RE: trips


I appreciate your inquiry and will respond to it more at a later time.
Believe me, arrogance is the farthest rationale for any actions since that
time.I know it is a cliche but from the outside looking in, it is always
easy to make incorrect judgments. I promise I will send you a greater
explanation.

________________________________

From: Karen Rutherford [mailto:krutherf@comcast.net]
Sent: Tue 6/14/2005 8:01 PM
To: Steve Hall
Subject: trips

Hello,

I live in Indianapolis. I lived in Rome for a few years in the 1990's and
still have a few friends there who share news stories with me every so
often. In March, I got "hooked" on the story of your tragic spring break
trip to Florida. I did some investigation of events on the trip and upon
your return home to Rome. What stunned me at first was how quickly you
returned to coaching soccer, encouraginginterviews from local reporters
about your thoughts on the team and how "fun" (your word) coaching them
always is (just a few days after the two boys drowned due to your neglect).
I wrote a little piece about what must be your character just to find some
outlet in dealing with the knowledge that people like you exist. I won't
stop until I find a public place for it to rest.

What continues to shock me, however, is how little Rome cares. I see on your
website that you had trips planned for March, April, May, and now in June,
July, etc., in water and out of water. I can't imagine what type of parent
would willingly and knowingly send their child off on a trip with you. I
would consider it child abuse. But somehow Rome forgets today what happened
yesterday. How fortunate for someone like you.

I suppose I'm alone in my thinking, but I just had to ask: It' s obvious
that you feel no responsibility for the boys' deaths. How do you do it? Do
you actually believe you did nothing wrong? What possible justification must
run through your mind upon waking each day? Or are you so absurdly arrogant
that you truly feel nothing?


Karen Rutherford

_____________
Egomaniacal teacher causes spring break tragedy

Steve Hall is an English teacher, founder of the outdoor education program
and head coach for the varsity girls' soccer team at Darlington, a
prestigious K-12 Christian school in Rome, Georgia. He also owns his own
company, Orr-Treks Outdoor Adventures, which has organized and led various
outdoor expeditions for Darlington students since 1984. He is known at
school as being quite the outdoorsman extraordinaire.

On Orr-Treks' website, <http://www.orrtreks.com/>, Hall touts not only his
superhuman abilities and expertise, but also his impeccable safety record:

"Since 1984 we've led hundred of expeditions over a million miles of
highways, trail, rivers and rocks with hundreds of participants without
incurring a single serious injury...."

"Our safety record is not based on luck but on good planning, a highly
skilled staff, state-of-the-art outdoor gear, and well-maintained
transportation."

The last week of February 2005, Mr. Hall, accompanied by his assistant
soccer coach, led a group of eight Darlington students on a spring break
canoe and kayak trip down the Suwanee River in the northern peninsula of
Florida.

His lack of appropriate preparation and arrogant disregard for the worsening
weather conditions directly and single-handedly resulted in two students'
deaths. As the leader, the expert, and one of only two adults on the trip,
only Hall can be held responsible.

On Saturday, February 26th, 2005, during a Florida storm that included high
winds and two to three foot waves, the group skirted the coastline of the
Gulf of Mexico headed north towards Coon Island.

Hall's well-maintained equipment consisted of a motorized catamaran boat
that malfunctioned, a cell phone with no service, no radio and no backup
equipment. The kids were dressed in t-shirts and shorts to canoe in 4 ½
miles of ocean. According to John Burton, a captain with the Florida Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the water temperature was 58 to 60
degrees Fahrenheit. Experts say that rescue divers in wet suits can only
tolerate water that cold for 10 minutes.

In their March 2, 2005, article titled "Hypothermia played role in death of
students", a Rome News Tribune timeline constructed from interviews, 911
tapes, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission listed the following:

Around 3pm Saturday, Sean Wilkinson and Clay McKemie were paddling in a
canoe together at the back of a convoy led by Hall in a motorized catamaran
raft.

Around 6pm, the motor in Hall's raft failed when a rope got caught. Hall
spent the next two hours tying the other canoes and kayaks to the raft,
while Sean and Clay drifted farther and farther away.

At approximately 8pm, Hall took a canoe out to look for the boys, but came
back unsuccessful.

At 9pm, Hall went back out with a student who should be
commended for his bravery and initiative. This student (who in March 2010 asked that his name be removed from this 2005 post not wanting any association with the event) volunteered (probably insisted) to go back out to look for the boys and to try to get service on Hall's cell
phone.

At 10:30pm, Hall reached his wife on his cell phone.

At 11:30pm, Hall's wife, with help from the Floyd County 911 service,
contacted the US Coast Guard who began their official search.

Just before noon, February 28th, 2005, the bodies of the two boys were found
thirteen miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sequence of events demands answers to the following questions:
Why didn't Steve Hall heed the weather conditions and warnings?
Why was the outdoorsman extraordinaire unable to radio for help at 6pm when
the trouble first began? Where was his backup equipment? Why would anyone,
as prepared as he professes to be, depend on a cell phone in the Gulf of
Mexico? Why would any reasonable adult responsible for eight children behave
in such a thoughtless, reckless, and arrogant way?

Why did Hall not take his cell phone on his first attempt to find the boys?
Why did Hall not instruct his wife how to contact the US Coast Guard (saving
an hour)?
And why in the world did a student have to urge the expert to make a second
attempt and try his cell phone in the first place?

Can one assume that, according to his personal high standards described on
his own website, Steve Hall considered this level of planning, preparedness
and consideration for the children for which he was responsible perfectly
acceptable? Or was he so arrogant that he didn't even have the humility to
heed the weather warnings? Or was he comparable to a habitual drunk driver
making stupid decision after stupid decision, going years without an
accident until one fatal day? Would the drunk driver's history of never
having any prior accidents be touted? Should he be praised for not killing
anyone else over the years?

It's also troubling to me how quickly the utmost of Christian entities turn
to legalism in a crisis. In Darlington High School's press release on
February 28th, 2005, President Jim Hendrix refers to Steve Hall as "a
12-year veteran of Darlington and licensed outdoor tour guide with 25 years
of experience in outdoor education." Mr. Hendrix goes on to say that "Steve
has led this trip seven times, as well as innumerable other outings through
his company, Orr-Treks." He added, "There has never been an incident
involving safety on any of his trips."

By March 4, 2005, the President and Chairman of the Board posted a letter on
the Darlington website with more details. In the second paragraph, they
mention the "hundreds of trips Steve Hall has led over the past twenty-five
years" and "the steady stream of testimonials from many of his former
program and trip participants, and their parents."

This information means two things: Darlington School wants to maintain a
safe distance from Orr-Trek and Steve Hall's luck finally ran out.

But the most disturbing part of the story is that, on March 8th, 2005, eight
days after the bodies were found and less than three days after the boys'
funerals, Steve Hall was seen by local sources vehemently and
enthusiastically coaching the girl's first soccer game after their spring
break from school the previous week.

On March 9th, 2005, a memorial for the two boys was held at Darlington. And
the following day, at the second soccer match since the tragedy, Hall was
quoted in a Rome News Tribune article, "Lady Tigers show seasoned signs,
9-0", saying, "Trying to get back to normal has really helped in dealing
with it, and the kids have been great." He added, "I was really pleased with
how they played today. That's what I like about this team - everybody
contributes, and they are a fun team to watch."

Fun. Steve Hall was having fun less than ten days after essentially killing
two teenage boys.

The following week, Christina Hall, Steve Hall's wife, told reporters that
her husband would not speak to them any further until they saw the
investigator's report. That is, he needed to keep his mouth shut until he
was found not legally responsible.

Even though no criminal charges will be filed against Hall, his moral
obligation seemingly escapes him. Where is this man's remorse, his
conscience or his sense of responsibility?

I live 500 miles away in Indiana, certainly not involved in local events or
with the local people, yet somehow more outraged than the town. As far as
I've been able to ascertain from the local articles about Hall, the people
have actually rallied around him and voiced their support.

I'd like to ask the parents of Rome, and specifically, the parents of
Darlington School students one question:

The Orr-Trek site has no mention of any cancellations of upcoming trips and,
in fact, there's a real "fun" one scheduled for Easter break (less than a
month after the deaths of Clay and Sean).

Assuming room is available, won't you sign your child up to spend a weekend
with Steve Hall?
____________

A lot of the news links have now expired. The Darlington site links have mysteriously disappeared, along with ANY mention of Steve Hall's OrrTreks school-sponsored organization. It's like it never existed.

 

(Links on this blog to more information: http://www.karenrutherford.com/display/ShowJournal?moduleId=830920&categoryId=76317)


February 28, 2005, Darlington Press Release:
<http://www.darlington.rome.ga.us/news/viewstory.asp?storyID=13379&search=steve%20hall>
March 4, 2005, Darlington News Letter:
<http://www.darlington.rome.ga.us/news/viewstory.asp?storyID=13387&search=steve%20hall>
February 28, 2005, CNN article, "Bodies of teen kayakers found":
<http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/02/28/kayakers.lost.ap/index.html>
March 1, 2005, Rome News Tribune article, "Tragedy at sea":
<http://news.mywebpal.com/partners/680/public/news614126.html>
March 2, 2005, Rome News Tribune article, "Hypothermia played role in death of students":
PDF of Article
<http://news.mywebpal.com/partners/680/public/news614760.html>
March 11, 2005, Rome News Tribune article, "Lady Tigers show seasoned signs, 9-0":
PDF of Article
<http://news.mywebpal.com/partners/680/public/news616961.html>
March 16, 2005, Rome News Tribune article, "No Charges in canoe deaths":
PDF of Article
<http://news.mywebpal.com/partners/680/public/news617771.html>