North Star owners Lance Jagger and William Henry admitted Thursday that failure to train and supervise their wilderness therapy staff led to a 16-year-old camper's death.
The two pleaded guilty in 6th District Court to negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor, in connection with the 1994 death of Aaron Bacon.Georgette Costigan, a North Star program supervisor and EMT, pleaded guilty to the same offense.
Jagger, Henry and Costigan were originally charged with abuse or neglect of a child, a third-degree felony, for allegedly ignoring Aaron Bacon's deteriorating condition and withholding food, clothing, shelter and medical care.
Four other North Star workers, Eric Henry, Jeff Hohenstein, Craig Fisher and Sonny Duncan, were also charged with felony child abuse in connection with Bacon's death but were not involved in Thursday's plea agreement.
Bacon died of a perforated ulcer and the resulting infection on March 31, 1994, near Escalante while enrolled in the North Star program for troubled children. On Thursday, prosecutors agreed to drop the felony charge against Jagger, Henry and Costigan in exchange for their guilty pleas to the misdemeanor.
Jagger and Henry also pleaded guilty to operating a human services program in violation of licensing standards, another class A misdemeanor.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Robert Parrish said justice was served.
"It was a very good plea," Parrish said. "It's only one count reduced from a third-degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor; otherwise it's pretty much guilty as charged."
Parrish added that Aaron Bacon's parents, who were not in the courtroom, approved the plea bargain.
During the brief hearing, the defendants' family members clutched tissues and often wept. Costigan also fought emotion, answering Judge K.L. McIff's questions in whispers.
When offering facts surrounding the pleas, attorneys for Jagger and Henry said their clients failed to properly train their employees, resulting in Bacon's death.
Costigan's lawyer, Ed Brass, did not review the facts behind the plea. The defendants declined to comment after the hearing.Comment on this story
Defense attorney Jeffrey P. Gleave lamented the tragic circumstances of the case, saying North Star Expeditions Inc., was founded on "extremely honorable intentions" and had improved the lives of several children.
"But it's been a rough 21/2 years for everyone involved," Gleave said. "The defendants have a great deal of compassion for Mr. and Mrs. Bacon, and they are devastated by Aaron's death."
McIff scheduled sentencing for Nov. 1. Prosecutors recommended that Costigan be placed on probation and complete "significant community service" instead of jail time. They did not offer any recommendations for Jagger or Henry.
Meanwhile, a trial for the remaining North Star defendants is still set for Oct. 28.