Family and friends mourn fallen Boy Scout leaders

Boy sees accident while speaking via cell phone to mother in Anchorage

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Four Boy Scout leaders were setting up a large tent for the National Scout Jamboree when things went terribly wrong, they lost control of a pole and it touched some electrical lines, killing them all.

"They were setting up a circus tent - a big tent - with a big center pole and they lost control of the pole and it hit some power lines," Bill Haines, scout executive and chief executive officer of the Western Alaska Council, said Tuesday.

The council oversees about 10,600 Boy Scouts and is the largest of three councils in Alaska.

One of those killed Monday, Boy Scout leader Mike Lacroix, had been planning a trip to the National Scout Jamboree at Bowling Green, Va., just outside the nation's capital for three years. He was deeply interested in the history of America's beginnings and the ideals that the Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution, said family friend Ruth Orien.

"That's a big part of why he wanted to go," Orien said.

Lacroix, 42, of Anchorage, was killed, along with Michael J. Shibe, 49, and Ronald H. Bitzer, 58, of Anchorage, Alaska; and Scott Edward Powell, 57, of Perrysville, Ohio.

Karl Holfeld said his son Taylor, 15, witnessed the accident. Taylor was on his cell phone to his mother in Anchorage when the accident occurred, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

"They all started screaming," Holfeld said. "He said, 'Oh my God, oh my God, the tent is on fire, they're being burned!' And she told him to stay away, to not touch anything, because there could be a live wire."

Shibe's 15-year-old twin sons, Karl and Paul, were at the Jamboree, and Lacroix's son, Cullen, 14, was there as well. The three were flying back to Alaska Tuesday, according to family representatives.

The four men were all deeply devoted to Boy Scouting.

"All the leaders submit their applications to the event and we pick the best ones to go," Haines said. "They were the best that we had."

This was Shibe's third national Jamboree and his four sons were all Boy Scouts, according to Meg Stapleton, who is assisting the family. The two oldest, Brent and Neal, are Eagle Scouts whom Shibe had taken to a previous Jamboree.

"This was the trip for the younger boys," Stapleton said.

Powell worked for the Scouts full-time as a ranger maintaining the Boy Scout grounds at Camp Gorsuch in Alaska for many years before moving to Ohio, said Wayne Starr, district commissioner for the Boy Scouts in Eklutna.

"That'll be a big loss to all of scouting in Southcentral Alaska," Starr said.

Powell taught scores of boys how to rappel, how to safely use knives and axes and how to find their way through the thick Alaskan forests using a compass. He also had a penchant for storytelling that came in handy in the glow of the campfire.

"He was the quintessential 'Boy,"' Starr said.

Bitzer, a retired attorney, worked in scouting for years, said family friend and fellow troop leader Ken Schoolcraft.

Bitzer took on management duties such as paying bills, hiring staff and making sure food was delivered to camp on time, Starr said.

"He was more analytical and approached the different challenges of scouting from the point of view of someone trained to be an attorney," Starr said.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Bothelo, in attendance at the Jamboree, said the group from the capital was showing resilience in dealing with the news. "There are plenty of activities to keep folks busy. The chaplain service has been pretty active." He said the chaplains, though, were mostly focusing on people closer to the accident.

He said the group from Anchorage stayed, although it relocated.

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