Falling tree kills scout

On the answering machine at the Lentz home in Camp Hill, the cheerful, high-pitched singsong of 7-year-old Owen Lentz asks callers to leave a message.

But Owen is gone, killed Sunday morning when a tree fell on his tent during a Cub Scout outing at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Cooke Township.

"It's a tragedy of the highest magnitude," said Gretchen Leslie, spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Owens' next-door neighbor.

"Any loss of life is a tragedy. This situation is particularly difficult to comprehend and accept," Leslie said this morning.

Lee Lentz, 28, the boy's father, was treated and released for minor injuries at Carlisle Regional Medical Center after the 1:15 p.m. accident, Park Manager Ken Boyles said this morning.

A second scout among the 11 on the overnight outing, Christopher Carey, 8, of Camp Hill, also was hit by the tree and suffered a broken pelvis, Boyles said.

Carey is "doing all right," his mom said this morning. He is expected to return home from the hospital sometime this week.

"We're lucky," his mom said.

Cumberland County Coroner's officials pronounced Owen Lentz dead at the scene but have ordered an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Family members are "obviously in complete shock, but using their faith as their strength," Leslie said.

Maternal grandparents live in the area and paternal grandparents live in western Pennsylvania, Leslie said.

'Freak' accident

A 40-foot dead pine "snapped off about eight feet above the ground and fell across the corner of the Lentz tent then struck a second tent" where Carey was sleeping, Boyles said.

"It had rained heavily Saturday but there was no wind, just fog and light drizzle through the night," continued Boyles, who arrived on the scene about 15 minutes after the accident.

"We're talking monumental coincidences and freak actions. Inches would have made differences," he said.

Trees near the quarter-acre campsite were inspected this spring and last fall.

"We remove the trees … we classify as hazardous … to the best of our ability. This tree wasn't in an area deemed a threat to the site," Boyles said.

The Lentz's tent was on the edge of the camping site, but the entire area is in a pine plantation with little undergrowth, the park manager said.

A park manager for 32 years, the last five at Pine Grove, Boyles said he's seen trees fall on tents before, but never resulting in a fatality.

The last fatality at Pine Grove was a drowning more than five years ago, he said.

Leslie said she knows of no fatality from falling trees in the 11 years she's been with DCNR, although limbs have fallen on park patrons in the past.

Terrific youngster

Leslie said her neighbor, a first-grader at Schaeffer Elementary School, "loved school and was a model student" with "dreams of being a zookeeper," Leslie said.

"He loved animals. It was his passion ever since I first knew him" as a one-year-old, she said.

"He was truly a wonderful child who had a bright spirit and smile that just lightened peoples lives. He was a terrific older brother who loved his (three year-old) younger brother and new baby sister … who is about two months old.

"He was a serious child yet silly and fun, very respectful of everyone. He treated others with such care. For a seven-year-old child, he was very thoughtful and caring."

Jack Carr, executive directory of the Keystone Area Council, says Cub Scout Pack 51 did everything right.

"It was just one of those freaky things, evidently," Carr said. "There was no wind, there was no lightning. It was just a tragedy - nothing that could have been prevented."

In Carr's five years as executive director, no serious injuries or deaths have occurred to scouts on scouting activities.

"When you consider we have 9,000 youth members and 4,000 adults, any given weekend, a bunch of them are out camping," he said.

About a dozen pack members were on the father-son camping trip, Carr said.

"This cub scout pack did everything by the book. They filed a tour permit. They were camping in a council-approved area in the park. It's just very tragic."

Council calls meeting

The Keystone Council has set a meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church for the 70 members of Pack 51 and its leaders.

"They evacuated that site at 2 a.m.," Carr explains. "A majority were not informed that evening" about Lentz's death and Carey's injuries, "just that the ranger wanted them to evacuate."

Staff at Schaeffer Elementary School met this morning before classes began.

"Due to the age of the students, we're trying to keep their day as normal as possible," said Paul Healey, director of education for the district.

Guidance counselors, the school psychologist and the student assistance team are on standby, he said.

"We had a parents meeting to let the parents know how to talk to their children, that they need to talk about it, and what we're going to do in the school today," Healey said.

Classes end Wednesday for Schaeffer students.


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