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It was "small vindication." But Susan Pinson, the birth mother of a teen who died of heat exhaustion while hiking in a Utah wilderness therapy program, said she was relieved when the state ordered the program closed in October 2003.

Pinson said licensers promised Skyline Journey owners Lee and Mark Wardle "would never run a place like that again, not in Utah." State officials made the same statement in news reports.

But there is nothing in state law to support a lifetime ban. Sixteen months after Skyline Journey lost its license, the father-and-son team has started another wilderness camp in Nephi, called Distant Drums Beginnings. The camp has operated lawfully since the state licensed it on Feb. 22, 2005.

Pinson reacted to the news on Wednesday from her home in Drumright, Okla., with disbelief, then anger. She wants Utah lawmakers to consider legislation to fix what she calls "a miscarriage of justice."

Mark Wardle argues the law is fair and that he has a right to continue pursuing a 16-year career in the teen-help industry.

Caught in the middle are state licensing officials who stand by their decision, but regret there is nothing they can do to mollify Pinson.

"The law is the law; we can't prevent them from operating forever," said Ken Stettler, director of the Human Services Office of Licensing.

Once a license is revoked, the state may not replace it unless: one year has passed, the applicant submits to regular inspections and provides "satisfactory evidence" that wrongs were righted, and the new operation proves safe. The law is phrased to give licensors some discretion.

But Stettler said a denial based solely on the Wardles having run a previous program where a fatality occurred probably wouldn't hold up in court. He said licensors thoroughly investigated Distant Drums, which in a year of operating has had no complaints.

The Wardles were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in connection with the July 13, 2002, death of Ian August, a 14-year-old Texas boy enrolled in Skyline by his adoptive mother.

But in a ruling on one of four licensing violations alleged by the state, an administrative judge found Skyline failed to describe the environment and demands of its program on a form sent to the doctor who cleared August to enroll.

Overweight and on medication that may have made him susceptible to overheating, August set out with five other teens and three counselors for a 3-mile trek across Utah's Sawtooth Mountain region in western Millard County.

A heat wave was setting records. After covering little more than a mile in about 3 1/2 hours, August crested a ridge and stopped. He later collapsed and, despite efforts to cool him, stopped breathing.

"It was an unfortunate thing that happened. It's just one of those things," said Mark Wardle. "We've done nothing wrong. We're helping kids. That's always been our goal."

A Web site - http://www. - describes the Wardles' new outdoor program as a 28-day "intensive wilderness experience" also in Utah's west desert, developed for at-risk adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18. The site makes no mention of the Wardles, listing Mark as a staff member by his first name only.

It's unique in that it's a "non-deprivation" program, said Mark Wardle, executive director and part-owner. "We don't condone depriving our students of basic comforts. They eat well and get fresh fruit and vegetables every day. We outfit them with everything they need for a safe journey."

Utah Department of Commerce filings list Mark Wardle's 78-year-old father, Lee, and St. George psychologist Scott Smith as the registered agents for Distant Drums. Mark Wardle described Smith as a partner and his father as admissions director.

He said Distant Drums operates year-round and employs 12 to 15 field staff, four therapists and a teacher. Tuition costs $355 a day or $10,500 for 30 days. To date, 10 teens have enrolled.

Stettler said in 15 years he recalls a half-dozen wilderness camps closing only to resurface under a different name.

Pinson said, "That's six too many. I don't care how good [Mark Wardle] thinks he is or what kind of impact he thinks he'll make. You just can't undo what he did."

Like Pinson, Cathy Sutton is dismayed that people involved in troubled programs can go on to reinvent themselves.

Sutton's daughter, Michelle, died in 1990 of exposure and dehydration while participating in Summit Quest. That program was begun by ex-employees of the Challenger Foundation - which was then struggling with legal and financial difficulties.

The founder of Summit Quest subsequently became involved with another wilderness program.

After Michelle's death, Utah instituted stringent operating requirements for wilderness programs but Sutton maintains the state doesn't have the money or manpower to ensure programs are adhering to those guidelines - as Ian August's death shows.

Worse, operators are not held accountable when a death occurs, she feels.

"I couldn't have done to Michelle myself what was done to her in the name of health and therapy," Sutton said. "I would have been put in jail."


Reporter Brooke Adams contributed to this report.