Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jury Awards $400,000 to Teen Trapped in Cave Home for Boys Found Negligent in Outing

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jury Awards $400,000 to Teen Trapped in Cave Home for Boys Found Negligent in Outing

Article excerpt

Gary Mahr was stranded in a dark, flooded cave for 20 hours. As he clung to a ledge in a tiny air pocket, he heard his six companions flailing and choking in the neck-high water. They were drowning.

The teen-ager will never forget his ordeal three years ago in Cliff Cave in south St. Louis County, his lawyer said.

"Gary will relive this event for the rest of his life" and never overcome his post traumatic stress disorder, said his lawyer, Gary R. Sarachan.

On Wednesday, a jury agreed, awarding Mahr $400,000 to help him deal with the resulting mental trauma.

The St. Louis Circuit Court jury also awarded $100,000 to the mother of a boy who drowned in the flash flood July 23, 1993.

Four boys and two counselors from St. Joseph's Home for Boys at 4753 South Grand Boulevard died in the sudden torrent that a downpour triggered at Cliff Cave Park. Gary, 16, is the only survivor.

Floodwater swept the cave while the group was in the cavern's most noteworthy feature, a narrow passageway called the Drapery Room Crawl. Visitors must scramble on their hands and knees to reach the area.

Gary said he had thought jurors might have awarded him more money in his suit against the home, then added he accepted the amount. In his closing argument, Sarachan asked jurors to award the youth $2.5 million.

"He's happy with the verdict," Sarachan said afterward, putting a hand on the tall, thin boy's left shoulder.

Gary's mother, Sharon McRoberts, and the mother of Terrill Vincent, who died in the flood, accused the home of negligence for inadequately supervising the boys on the outing to the county park. Counselors lacked training in cave exploration and had only one flashlight for every two people on what was to have been a two-hour trip, their lawyers said.

Terrill's mother, Stephanie Vincent, said she believes the jury award for her son's death is too small.

"For a life, it's not adequate," she said.

Her lawyer, Daniel R. Devereaux, had asked jurors to award Vincent $2.5 million to $3 million.

Jurors, who deliberated nearly three hours, said that at first a few members were against awarding any damages.

Some in the jury of eight men and four women questioned whether the home was negligent, said a juror, who declined to give his name. …

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