Utah doctor enters plea in wilderness therapy case
September 7, 2008
SALT LAKE CITY ” A Utah County physician has pleaded not guilty to a Colorado indictment that alleges he is partly responsible for the death of a Salt Lake City boy assigned to a wilderness therapy camp.
Keith R. Hooker is accused of negligent homicide and child abuse. He was indicted by a grand jury in July and was arraigned last week in a Montrose, Colo., courtroom.
Hooker, who has worked in the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center for more than 30 years, was medical director for Alternative Youth Adventures, according to court documents.
Caleb Jensen, 15, died from a staphylococcus infection in May 2007 while in an AYA program in southern Colorado.
Prosecutors contend his disease went untreated despite glaring symptoms.
But court papers detailing the indictment contain no allegations about what Hooker is alleged to have done or not done, related to the boy’s death.
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A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 6.
“Doctor Hooker never examined Caleb. His role is an adviser to the program. We think it’s an overshot,” Hooker’s Provo attorney Mike Esplin said. “He didn’t give (AYA) any advice concerning this incident. We are in the dark. (Investigators) never talked to him.”
Esplin said he has not seen transcripts of testimony given to the grand jury and believes there is insufficient evidence to support charges.
Prosecutors have also charged camp emergency medical technician Ben Askins, who treated Jensen’s illness with ibuprofen, with manslaughter. Camp program director Jim Omer and the businesses, Alternative Youth Adventures of Colorado and its corporate parent, Community Education Centers Inc. also face criminal charges.
The New Jersey-based company provides treatment to 6,000 juvenile and adult offenders a year, in seven states. Colorado officials shut down the camp operation there two months after Jensen’s death.
No charges were filed against field counselors who tended to Jensen and later spoke to investigators.
Jensen had been ordered to the camp by Utah juvenile justice officials. He entered a 60-day program in March 2007. Court documents show camp counselors thought Jensen was “faking” his illness and separated him from the group of teens in the field. They ordered him to wear diapers and put him on suicide watch.
Court documents also say field staff called an AYA’s base camp about Jensen’s condition, but no additional medical attention was ordered.