Mound family sues over son's death in Japan

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2008 - 1:49 PM

Tyler Hill's parents allege he pleaded for help after mountain climbing but that trip leaders failed to respond in time.

After climbing Mount Fuji in June, 16-year-old Tyler Hill suffered altitude sickness and vomited blood. His parents say he pleaded for medical help with the leaders of the People to People Student Ambassador group he was traveling with.

Help came too late. He died at the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center, with his family unaware and half a world away.

Now his parents, Sheryl and Allen Hill of Mound allege in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Hennepin County that Tyler's life could have been saved if he had received immediate medical attention.

"My biggest fear is that no one will know the truth," said Sheryl Hill on Monday.

In addition to reimbursement for the $6,750 paid for the two-week trip, the family seeks unspecified damages.

They say their son's death could have easily been prevented by trip leaders who knew he was diabetic but failed to heed his calls for help. The family also alleges fraud, breach of contract and false advertising, among other things.

The family names the Ambassadors Group, a corporation, as well as individuals who were "delegation leaders" for failing to "obtain timely and appropriate help" for Tyler Hill "as promised."

Sheryl Hill sobbed as she talked about her son, an experienced world traveler. When he died, he had just finished his sophomore year at Mound Westonka High School. He was an MVP rugby player, a tight end in football, a winger in hockey and a scuba diver.

She said Tyler suffered cerebral and cardiac edema after climbing Fuji. He asked for help, but instead was left alone in his room for hours, the lawsuit said.

His kidneys, his heart and his brain were failing, his mother said. "It's a very slow, torturous death," she said.

"Our goal is to herald Tyler's story around the world so this will not happen to another family," Sheryl Hill said.

The president of the People to People Student Ambassadors Program, Jeff Thomas, said in a statement that the program is reviewing the lawsuit and cannot comment at this time.

"We are deeply saddened by the death of Tyler Hill last summer and the entire People to People Ambassador Program organization continues to grieve for his family," the statement said.

Health problems disclosed

Before Tyler Hill went to Japan, the family said, they disclosed that he had Type I diabetes and complex migraines. The Hills were reassured that People to People set the ''gold standard'' for safety with a solid record and a 24-hour response team should any child become severely ill, the lawsuit said.

Sheryl Hill said he was extremely careful about managing his diabetes and did not take his health for granted.

The group's website includes a picture of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, described as the organization's founder. But the Hills challenge the claim, saying Eisenhower neither founded nor served as chairman of the organization. The president's granddaughter sold the rights to the name to Ambassador Group International for an undisclosed amount of money around 2002, the family said.

The Hills also take issue with the notion that students are nominated for the "honor" to be in the program but said they are solicited through mass mailing lists.

The ambassador website encourages students to "find out for yourself how People to People Student Ambassador Programs can introduce you to a world of exciting special-access experiences and incredible adventures that no other summer program or family vacation can provide."

The People to People website reported that students have traveled to all seven continents through the program.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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