A Nevada juvenile court judge Thursday refused to return eight juveniles to a wilderness youth therapy program that had earlier encountered problems in Utah.
Lincoln County Juvenile Court Master Harold Moorehead said the youths would remain in the custody of the Nevada State Welfare Department until their parents could pick them up.Officials removed the youths over the weekend from the Summit Quest program, operating in Pioche, Nevada, about 30 miles from the Utah border. The action came amid concerns about whether the program was properly licensed and whether participants were receiving proper care.
Summit Quest is a survival program that takes troubled teens into the wilderness for several weeks. During a meeting with Utah licensing officials last summer, director Gayle Palmer characterized it as a "program that saves young lives."
The Nevada shutdown is one more chapter in the history of the controversial, year-old program. It left Utah earlier this year when it lost its conditional operating license.
The program originated in Utah and had offices in Utah County. It came under fire when a 15-year-old Pleasanton, Calif., girl died last May during Summit Quest's maiden excursion. Michelle Sutton died of dehydration and exposure in a remote area of northern Arizona. The group's radios weren't working and they lit fires to summon help.
The girl's parents, Cathy and Bob Sutton, have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Summit Quest.
Several months ago, Nevada licensing officials asked Utah to provide information about the program. They also asked for information on Utah's licensing regulations for such programs, according to Ken Stettler, licensing specialist for the Department of Human Services.
Utah drew up new licensing regulations last summer following the deaths of two girls in separate wilderness programs - Michelle Sutton and a 16-year-old Florida girl who died while participating in the now-defunct Challenger program.
Challenger program director Stephen Cartisano has been charged with nine counts of child abuse and negligent homicide.
No charges have been filed in Sutton's death. Just last week, an Arizona official said the investigation is ongoing.
A district court judge will review Moorehead's decision within a few weeks.