COVINGTON, Ga. - The parents of a teenager killed at a Newton County Boy Scout camp have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in hopes of improving safety standards.
Elijah James Knight, 14, of Cypress, Texas, died on June 25, 2018, when a tree fell on his tent during a thunderstorm at the Bert Adams Scout Camp near Covington.
His parents, Stephen and Courtney Knight, filed the claim Tuesday in Cobb County against the Boy Scouts of America and the Atlanta Area Council Inc. Boy Scouts of America.
“Having joined the horrible club of parents who have lost a child, and especially the community of parents whose child died in a scouting event, we hope to make systemic safety improvements that will preserve and protect the lives of many other children in the future,” Stephen Knight said in a statement from the Atlanta law firm of Harris Lowry Manton, which filed the claim.
Both Elijah Knight and his younger brother, Joshua, came to the Newton County camp last summer to take part in activities following in the footsteps of their father, who was an Eagle Scout. Elijah Knight was a troop instructor at the camp out of Troop 533 in the Big Cypress District of the Sam Houston Area Council.
Trial attorney Jeff Harris in Savannah filed the claim Tuesday morning and noted a 1999 death of a Cobb County father and son, and the 2017 death of a Cobb County teenager at the camp.
“We believe the Boy Scouts do not have adequate policies in place to keep kids safe and that Elijah Knight’s tragic death could have been prevented by following simple weather-related procedures,” Harris said.
The suit claims the Boy Scouts ignored weather advisories including a severe thunderstorm warning in effect at the time of Elijah’s death. Campers were not evacuated, and Elijah remained outdoors under a canvas tent.
Southeastern Newton County was under a severe thunderstorm warning on the afternoon of the child’s death. The National Weather Service warned of 60 mph wind gusts and quarter-sized hail.
The Bert Adams Scout Camp dates to 1928, when it was founded in Vinings. It moved to rural Newton County in 1960 and is situated on more than 1,300 acres. It offers archery, horseback riding, swimming, riflery, camping, a ropes course and more to Scouts and other guests.
Elijah died during the fourth week of 2018 Scout Summer Camp.
The suit claims the Boy Scouts failed to live up to their motto: “Be Prepared.” Also, the camp was accused of not living up to its plans for inclement weather. The Scouts said camp staff members did not sound the alarm about significant weather advisories at 2:59 and 3:24 p.m.
The Newton County coroner said Elijah was injured at 3:41 p.m. and he died 22 minutes later. The camp was canceled the next day for about 100 Scouts, including Joshua.
The suit asks for damages including funeral and burial expenses; predeath pain and suffering; mental anguish, fright, shock and terror; other necessary expenses and punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees and interest. The plaintiffs asked for a jury trial.
“We hope to see a new level of safety standards, so no other family has to go through the same anguish,” Stephen Knight said.
Elijah Knight was a member of the distinguished honor roll and winner of the Spartan Mark of Excellence and Distinguished Achievement awards at Spillane Middle School in Cypress, where he was in the program for gifted and talented students.
He was focused on achieving his Eagle rank — Scouting’s highest honor — and had been inducted into the Order of the Arrow. He was an inventor, an award-winning saxophone player, a cross-country runner and volunteer in his community. His goal was to become an environmental engineer.
“Elijah was kind, accepting, intelligent and vivacious,” Courtney Knight said. “He was inquisitive and inventive and intended to use these innate talents to improve the world.”
The Atlanta Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, issued this statement:
“This is a very difficult time for our Scouting family. We offer our deepest condolences to the victim and his family, and we will support them in any way we can.
“The safety of our Scouts is our number one priority. Please join us in keeping those affected by the tragic accident during last summer’s severe storms in our thoughts and prayers.”