TUCKER TREATMENT CENTER FINED $5,000 AFTER TEEN'S DEATH, CHILD
NEGLECT CHARGES AGAINST ALLDREDGE ACADEMY OFFICIALS DROPPED
THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
A Tucker County wilderness treatment center agreed not to fight a
charge of child neglect resulting in death and to take the $5,000
fine, the maximum penalty for the felony charge, court records show.
In return, Tucker prosecutor William Miller agreed to drop
charges of child neglect against two individuals: Alldredge Academy
operator L. Jay Mitchell and counselor John Weston White.
They were indicted in February, a year after 14-year-old Ryan
Lewis of Massachusetts hanged himself with a tent cord.
The boy had been at the wilderness treatment center for about a
week, during which he also sliced his forearm open from wrist to
elbow, according to a report by the state Department of Health and
Alldredge Academy and its employees had been scheduled to go to
trial on June 24.
Mitchell's business partner, Lance Wells, said his company had a
good defense planned and was looking forward to explaining the
academy's philosophy to a Tucker jury.
But the two men also were concerned that the jury would be
emotionally caught up in the case, Wells said.
At a pretrial hearing this week, the boy's family members wore
pins displaying their son's face, Wells said.
"It made me feel really bad for them," he said. "It's eating them
alive. It's eating us up, too.
"We're never going to forget Ryan Lewis. We're in the business of
saving lives, not having them come here to die."
Paul Lewis, the boy's father, could not be reached for comment
"Alldredge maintains that its conduct was not the cause in any
way, in fact or in law, of Ryan Lewis' unfortunate death," states
the no-contest plea filed in Tucker County Circuit Court.
Also included in the court documents is a corporate resolution.
"In recognition of the cost of defending Alldredge Academy in
money, time and resources, and in recognition of the fact that this
defense takes us from our vital mission of helping families, it is
in the best interests of all to permanently conclude this matter by
entering into this [no-contest] plea," the resolution says.
Last year, DHHR Secretary Paul Nusbaum ordered Alldredge to close
after the boy's death, but was stopped by Kanawha County Circuit
Judge Duke Bloom after the academy fought the closing.
Bloom ordered the state and the academy to work out an agreement.
Alldredge officials agreed to train staff properly, to assess young
people's educational and treatment needs, and to pursue state
Since then, Alldredge has complied with requirements set by DHHR,
said department spokesman John Law.
To keep a state license, a company must do many things, such as
maintain and follow a policy for reporting incidents, including
suicide attempts, death, neglect and injuries.
West Virginia law requires that any organization that provides
behavioral health services must be licensed by the state and get
state permission, called a certificate of need, to operate.
These steps are required whether the company accepts public money
Alldredge did not complete these steps before opening. Academy
officials said they operate a private school, so they were not
required to be licensed.
Alldredge markets its wilderness treatment program to wealthy
parents of troubled children around the country. The program costs
more than $17,000 for three months for teens ages 13 to 18.
To contact staff writer Dawn Miller, use e-mail or call 348-5117.