The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 6, 1998
Ariz. boys ranch closing troubled unit--Teen's death brings promise to do better
By B.G. Gregg
An Arizona facility for troubled juveniles, whose charges include about 20 teen-agers from Hamilton County, will close the campus where a youth died after alleged abuse.
Bob Thomas, chief executive officer of the Arizona Boys Ranch, said Tuesday that one of the camp's seven campuses would be closed and that a series of improvements would be instituted in the wake of the March 2 death of Nicholaus Contreraz of California.
"We have learned that staff actions totally disregarded established disciplinary policies," he said. "We accept responsibility for those actions. We will do everything in our power to institute changes to prevent the recurrence of this tragedy."
The boot-camp-style facility houses about 500 juvenile delinquents from around the country. The ranch is facing a criminal and state examination into the youth's death, and Arizona officials have pledged to close the entire facility if pervasive abuse is found. Troubled teen-agers from Hamilton County were sent to the ranch under the guidance of FCF Management Inc. The private company was hired to manage the care of the county's most troubled children, but will soon become a branch of Beech Acres in Anderson Township, passing control of the children to the social service agency.
Jim Mason, president of Beech Acres, said last week he was deeply disturbed by reports of abuse surrounding the death of the youth, and he would speed the process to bring home all Hamilton County teens at the facility.
The Contreraz boy, 16, of Sacramento, died from complications of empyema, an accumulation of pus in his chest cavity. The condition -- a byproduct of pneumonia, bronchitis and other infections -- cut off oxygen to his heart.
Police interviews with camp residents and employees contained testimony the teen-ager was denied medical treatment and forced to perform exercises even though he repeatedly vomited and defecated on himself.
Mr. Thomas said Tuesday that all teens at the camp's Oracle campus would be moved to other programs when it closes in early June. In addition, he said, the ranch plans to:
- Upgrade medical personnel and services.
- Implement more rigid hiring and employee screening practices. Welcome inspections by a panel of retired law professionals and qualified citizens.
- Implement more strict requirements for accepting youths into the program, including comprehensive medical histories.