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The mother of a 14-year-old boy who fell to his death during a Boy Scout troop outing in Zion National Park has filed a lawsuit claiming poor planning and a lack of adult supervision led to the accident.
Ruth Jones named The Boy Scouts of America, the Utah National Parks Council and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as defendants in a lawsuit filed Monday in 4th District Court. The suit claims her son, Kristoffer, died two years ago this week due to negligence on a hike to Angels Landing.
The well-known overlook spans two narrow cliff tops with sheer 800- to 1,000-foot drops above the floor of Zion Canyon.
"There are some places you take kids and some you don't," said Provo attorney Lynn Harris, who represents Jones in the lawsuit. "There is a real question as to whether they should have been there. . . . And if you're going to do it, you probably ought to have a lot of supervision and an idea of what you're going to do when you're up there."
Kristoffer, a member of the LDS Church and a Boy Scout in his home state of California, was spending the summer with his grandmother in Provo when the accident occurred, according to the lawsuit. During the visit, Bonneville Third Ward members, ward leaders and Boy Scout leaders invited Kristoffer to join a Boy Scout ward outing.
Up to 40 Scouts and leaders planned to take part in a hike, splitting up into four groups of 10, the suit said. The lawsuit alleges the leader of Kristoffer's group failed to control the group and keep its members together for the full time of the hike. The suit also claims negligence in the selection of the hike and a failure to guard against the "ordinary expected impulsive behavior" of children.
Kristoffer and several other members of the group arrived at Angels Landing at least 15 minutes before adult leaders, the lawsuit claims. Reports from the Washington County Sheriff's Office said another Scout had bet Kristoffer $5 to crawl out onto a ledge and scratch his name into the side of a cliff.
A witness took photographs shortly before the accident that show several boys standing on a ledge behind Kristoffer. He told police he saw the Scouts "running around and jumping between rocks" without an adult supervisor. Although he told them to be careful, he said his warnings went unheeded.
Reports from the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the National Park Service say Michael Horito, traveling with the scouts, arrived at Angels Landing several minutes after Kristoffer fell. Horito was not named in Monday's lawsuit.
Park authorities said the boys were hundreds of feet off the trail, near the summit, when Kristoffer fell. According to the report, Kristoffer was about 6 feet from the nearest Scout and was scooting along a steep slope when he lost his footing.
John Gailey, spokesman for the Boy Scouts' Orem-based National Parks Council, which facilitated the trip, declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.
"We are all about the development of youth, and the safety of those youth are of primary importance," Gailey said. "We have continued over the past few years to emphasize the safety requirements."
A spokesman for the LDS Church said Tuesday the incident involved a Boy Scout-sponsored activity and that the BSA will be handling the defense of the case.
The Zion National Park Web site currently issues a warning about Angels Landing:
"The route to Angels Landing involves travel along a steep, narrow ridge with support chains anchored intermittently along the route. Footing can be slippery even when the rock is dry," the site said. "Younger children should skip this trail; older children must be closely supervised."