Scout on life support after lightning strike

FRESNO, California (AP) -- Lightning struck a group of Boy Scouts taking shelter from a storm, killing the troop leader and leaving a 13-year-old boy brain-dead in the latest tragedy to befall the organization this week, authorities and the teen's grandfather said.

Six others were injured when the lightning bolt made a direct strike on a tarp the Scouts had set up in a meadow in Sequoia National Park on Thursday.

Ryan Collins, 13, was being kept on a ventilator so that his organs could be donated, the boy's grandfather said Friday. Collins was listed in critical condition at the University Medical Center in Fresno, but his family had given up hope.

"He would never recover or anything else," grandfather Bill Collins said.

The lightning strike came just days after four Scout leaders were electrocuted while putting up a tent at the National Scout Jamboree in Virginia. Dozens of Scouts were sickened by the stifling heat two days later at the jamboree. (Full story)

At least one of the injured in the lightning strike was kept alive only because the troop managed to administer CPR for an hour, park ranger Alex Picavet said. It is not known which injured person that was.

"That's amazing," Picavet said. "It's very difficult. It's probably because of their Boy Scout training."

The assistant scoutmaster, Steve McCullagh, 29, was killed instantly when the bolt struck, the Tulare County coroner's office said.

"He didn't even make it off the mountain," said Sue Collins, the boy's mother, crying along with her husband and younger son at the hospital. "It's horrible. It's a fluke."

Teens ran 25 minutes for help

One troop member was being kept for observation at the Fresno hospital, and all the others were treated and released from another hospital, authorities said.

The scout group from St. Helena, which included five adults and seven teenage scouts, had been camping for a week as part of a nine-day backcountry hike along the John Muir Trail.

A lightning bolt made a direct strike on one of two tarps they had set up in a meadow. Two teenagers ran 25 minutes to a ranger station after the strike, and five helicopters flew in to evacuate the group.

"They did the best they could in the situation they were in," Picavet said. "They didn't have metal poles, and stayed away from high points."

Collins said his grandson was a scout for more than three years and loved the outdoors.

"He was a fabulous boy. He was doing what he loved to do," Collins said. "It's just a tremendous shock to everybody."

Apology over accident

Meanwhile, National Boy Scouts officials apologized Friday for remarks implying that four adult volunteers shared responsibility for their own deaths while setting up a tent beneath a power line at the national Jamboree in Virginia.

Spokesman Stephen Medlicott said the group wanted to clear up "some confusion" about the scouts' position.

The Boy Scouts have "not assigned blame" to the Alaska Scout leaders involved in Monday's deaths, national officials said in a statement issued Thursday.

"We apologize for any statement we've made which might be construed as assigning blame."

The statement came a day after Jamboree spokesman Gregg Shields said the Alaska group had ignored scouting teachings by putting the tent under a power line at Fort A.P. Hill, the Army base where the 10-day event is being held. He also said the group leaders had taken the "somewhat unusual" step of hiring a contractor to help with the task.

"Boy Scouts are taught not to put their tents under trees or under power lines. I don't know what happened in that case," Shields had said Wednesday.

The Virginia-based tent company hired for the job sent two workers to set up two dining canopies at the Jamboree, Alaska Scout officials said. The tent workers set up the first canopy while the leaders and Scouts set up sleeping tents, Bill Haines, a Scout executive in Alaska, said in a statement Thursday.

The accident occurred when the contractors asked the Alaska leaders for help raising the second canopy, Haines said.

Three adults, including the two tent workers, were injured. One of the injured people returned to the Jamboree after being released from the hospital.

The Army is investigating the accident. The Boy Scouts are "cooperating closely," Medlicott said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.