Boy Scouts’ Sailing Lesson Turns Deadly When Mast Strikes Power Lines on Texas Lake

(The Washington Post) -

Scattered across Lake O’ The Pines Saturday afternoon were adventure-thirsty Boy Scouts mastering the outdoors.

The more senior members of Troop 620, based in the small East Texas town of Hallsville, worked at one end of the public lake toward a merit badge involving motor boats. On shore, the troop’s youngest scouts tended to their campsite. And aboard a catamaran in an alcove called Alley Creek, two teens with Eagle Scout distinction were mentoring an 11-year-old troop member on how to sail.

For a while, all was well on the water. Then suddenly the catamaran caught fire and the scouts onshore were shouting for help.

Within minutes, a troop leader had hopped into a kayak and paddled upon the gruesome scene: two scouts in the water and one on the sail boat. All were apparently electrocuted by a live power line strung just low enough to catch their 30 foot mast as they glided beneath it, according to state wildlife officials.

The Eagle Scouts, ages 18 and 16, were dead, according to state wildlife officials, and the 11-year-old, identified by friends and family as Thomas Larry, was unconscious in the water. All were wearing life jackets.

Some people helped pull Thomas into their boat while the Scout leader performed CPR, said Daniel Anderson, chief operating officer for the East Texas Boy Scouts of America, which includes Troop 620. They drove Thomas to the marina, where he was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital just across the state line to Shreveport, La.

“It was a tragic scene,” Texas Game Warden Quint Balkcom told ABC affiliate KLTV 7.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Anderson said their Boy Scout community and the young men of Troop 620 who witnessed the boating accident are traumatized.

“We have to come together as a scout family and make sure we are supporting those who are carrying quite a weight right now,” Anderson said.

The East Texas Area Council confirmed the boys’ deaths and Thomas’ injuries in a statement.

“This is an extremely difficult time for our scouting family,” the statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families. We will support them in any way that we can.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the boating accident a “terrible tragedy” in a statement and said his “thoughts and prayers go out to the Boy Scouts and their families.”

Thomas’ older brother, John, was also on the lake when the catamaran caught fire. He watched as a medical crew worked on Thomas and swept him away in an ambulance, Weatherford said.

She said the Larry boys were taught “to work hard and be responsible.”

“They’re on a lake with the Boy Scouts,” Weatherford said. “That sounds like the safest thing ever.”

Anderson said he wasn’t aware of any youth Boy Scout fatalities in East Texas in recent memory. Troops there go camping all the time, he said.

The accident is being investigated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s boating accident reconstruction and mapping team, officials said.

While they wait for answers to their questions, like why the power line was so low or located over water at all, Troop 620 is drawing from its roots.

There are 12 points in Scout Law, Anderson said, and three resonate in this moment.

“A scout is reverent.”

“A scout is loyal.”

“A scout is brave.”