1 Million Dollar Verdict Awarded
Two child victims have won a lawsuit for $1 million in South Carolina after an unqualified 17-year-old camp counselor choked several campers under his supervision, calling it a game.
Counselor attacked four campers between the ages of nine and 12
At least 82 adolescents dead from “choking game” since 1995
FBI reports 500 to 1,000 deaths annually from autoerotic asphyxiation
Assault and Battery
What was supposed to be a fun trip to summer camp turned into a nightmare for Dylan Walker, 9 years old in 2008. Camp Bob Cooper, an affiliate of Clemson University, offers “warm southern weather, a rustic yet beautiful setting, and a complete range of modern amenities,” on the shores of South Carolina’s Lake Marion. What it also offered, Walker soon found out, was an unwanted lesson in physical abuse and assault.
According to a lawsuit filed by Walker’s family along with the family of another youth camper, the children were attacked by a 17-year-old volunteer counselor named Ronald Edward Riley. Riley choked Walker and three other children, the lawsuit claimed, stating it was a game.
It took the jury only minutes to decide on a $1 million verdict against Riley, the camp and the federal program Operation: Military Kids that ran the program. Riley is also facing criminal charges of assault and battery and child neglect.
A Clemson University spokesperson told a local news source, “We believe the award is excessive, is not supported by the facts in the case, and we will appeal.”
Not a Prudent Choice
The 17-year-old, who was originally a camper, never should have been a counselor in the first place, lawyers contend. “They elevated him to counselor status because they didn’t have the correct number of counselors,” says David Savage, the attorney for Walker’s family. It was not a prudent choice.
“This camp advertised itself on its website as a camp where all counselors would have background checks performed and campers would be supervised 24/7,” Savage says. But it seems the camp did not follow its own guidelines.
“How do you do a background check on a kid?” Savage asks. “Go on Facebook and MySpace, right?” Riley’s MySpace page featured a picture of himself holding a knife to his lips saying, “Be quiet. This is going to hurt,” which probably isn’t quite what Camp Bob Cooper had in mind when it put the apparently troubled teenager in charge of the well-being of children.
Chillingly, according to Savage, Riley specifically requested to be in charge of the younger campers. “He asked for the youngest boys,” Savage says. “You don’t have to be a great lawyer to figure out what’s going on.”
It Ain’t a Game
When Riley told the campers that what he was doing was just a game, the statement echoed fears of a “choking game” among youth that has provoked enough attention nationally that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a special website to warn parents of the dangers.
According to a CDC study, children “play” the choking game using their hands or a noose so they can catch a brief high. The study found that at least 82 children and adolescents died from voluntary choking between 1995 and 2008.
The website warns that the consequences can be quick, and deadly: “Someone can become unconscious in a matter of seconds. Within three minutes of continued strangulation (i.e., hanging), basic functions such as memory, balance, and the central nervous system start to fail. Death occurs shortly after.”
“It ain’t a game,” says Savage.