Author Topic: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in crash  (Read 6234 times)

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Offline Reddit TroubledTeens

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Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in crash
« on: December 23, 2011, 04:22:59 AM »
Source: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/19/2 ... ident.html

Camp driver in deadly accident had driving record

Pg 1


By Carol Marbin Miller  
http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/19/2 ... rylink=cpy

After Johnson Atilard had been pulled over by police nine times in three years — including stops for speeding, leaving the scene of a crash and operating an unsafe car — his bosses at an Everglades youth prison took away his driving privileges.

In a memo dated Feb. 1, the director of the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute told Atilard he could not drive any of the company’s cars, or drive any of the delinquent youth detained at the program in his own car. “Big Cypress’ insurance will not cover you,” Atilard was told. “Failure to abide by these restrictions places AMIkids Big Cypress in a position of great liability.”

Atilard ignored the warning.

Two weeks ago, he was behind the wheel of a Ford Expedition carrying seven teens in state custody when he lost control of the SUV while taking a curve, crashed into a road sign and plunged into a canal. Both Atilard and 17-year-old Daniel Huerta, a teen sent to the program by state youth corrections administrators, died in the crash.

Department of Juvenile Justice bosses said earlier this month that the crash, and Atilard’s involvement, are under investigation.

“We again express our sincere regret that this accident occurred,” said C.J. Drake, a juvenile justice spokesman in Tallahassee. “We are working with our contract providers to make sure the appropriate precautions are taken for the safety of the youth in our care.”

Shawna Vercher, a spokeswoman for AMIkids, the company that runs the youth camp under contract with DJJ, said the agency is investigating how Atilard, 25, was able to drive children in the group’s care despite orders not to. “We know there is a policy in place. We will determine who violated the policy, and prevent it from happening again. It’s clear the policy was violated.”

“From the organization’s perspective,” Vercher added, “we want to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

AMIkids’ Big Cypress Wilderness Institute in Ochopee is a 35-bed residential program for at-risk boys ages 14 to 18. The company provided The Miami Herald with Atilard’s personnel file under Florida’s public records law.

Atilard, a graduate of Estero High School in Lee County, applied for a job at Big Cypress in April 2010. He had worked previous stints at a Walmart store and a Whole Foods grocery. The application asked whether Atilard had been issued any tickets for moving violations during the previous three years. “Seat belt and window tints,” he replied, according to his file.

But that was only partly true.

Between April 2007 and the date he signed his application, Atilard had been ticketed five times, including violations for driving an unsafe vehicle and leaving the scene of an accident. Prior to that, he had been ticketed for speeding, unlawfully avoiding a traffic control device and driving on the wrong side of the road. He also had been given a notice to appear on misdemeanor charges of giving alcohol to a minor in August 2008. He pleaded no contest to that charge, though adjudication was withheld.

Otherwise, Atilard had no arrest record, and his references, the file shows, spoke well of him: “Johnson is a very intelligent young man. He will be a great addition to your [group],” one former colleague wrote. “Johnson is a very hard-working individual. He is very dedicated and will excel in anything he does,” wrote another.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/19/2 ... rylink=cpy
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Offline Oscar

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2011, 04:31:48 AM »
Damn. The text to the Christmas greeting on the frontpage of the Fornits Wiki now has to be changed.

Why could they not keep the kids alive so 2011 could have been a year where the teenagers returned home alive?
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Offline cum guzzler

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« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2011, 04:37:38 AM »
.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2011, 12:50:46 AM by cum guzzler »

Offline Reddit TroubledTeens

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2011, 04:58:01 AM »
Uuuuuuuuuuuuugh, Oscar. That's one record I don't like to see broken.
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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2011, 05:02:00 AM »
Not sure why this didn't get posted with pg 1, but here's the rest of the story...

Pg 2

Atilard was hired as a night watchman in July 2010, records show.

Vercher, AMIkids’ spokeswoman, said it is the agency’s policy to verify the information contained in job applications. “Right now, we have not completed our investigation to determine how” Atilard’s driving history went undetected by staff, she said.

Seven months after Atilard was hired, records show, he was ordered to stay away from company cars and to refrain from driving children detained at the program. Atilard, a Feb. 1 memo said, was “ineligible to drive institute-owned or rented vehicles, ineligible to transport students in any vehicle, and ineligible to drive any vehicle… in the course of AMIkids Big Cypress business.”

Atilard’s bosses, the memo said, had hoped he could regain driving privileges as early as August, when one of the infractions was to lapse beyond the three-year window the company monitored.

But Atilard got in more trouble: During the next several months, he was ticketed five more times, including two more speeding infractions — for a total of five — and for driving with a suspended license.

On Dec. 8, Atilard was driving seven teens back to the wilderness institute after they spent the day participating in an athletic event. He was driving north on Wagon Wheel Road in Collier County at10:15 p.m. when he swerved off the roadway. The SUV crashed into a traffic sign before hurtling into a canal, where it became partially submerged.

Atilard and Huerta died at Physicians Regional Medical Center. The six other youths in the car were treated for non-life-threatening injuries, the Florida Highway Patrol said at the time. The other teens included an 18-year-old from Miami Gardens and a 15-year-old from Florida City.

At the time of his death, records show, Atilard had been issued at least 18 tickets in three counties.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/19/2 ... rylink=cpy
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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #5 on: December 23, 2011, 05:09:18 AM »
Comments

Thomas Chamberlin
6 comments
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Find whoever let him drive the kids, and arrest that person.  Start with his direct supervisor.
A Like Reply 3 days ago 5 Likes Report Abuse

Charles___Darwin
4 comments
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The personal injury attorneys will pick at his carcass like starving buzzards.
A Like Reply 3 days ago in reply to Thomas Chamberlin
0 Like Report Abuse

drifter
3 comments
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So the teenagers who were sentenced by the Court to spend some time in a facility in the everglades received a death sentence because the facility was negligent in its investigation of the background and hiring of Atilard and was negligent in its allowing him to drive a van full of kids who had no choice about being in it. Apparently concern for the safety of the kids was not enough to get AMIkids to pay attention and enforce a reasonable policy. Perhaps a big enough judgement from 6 kids and one set of grieving parents will make AMIkids and DJJ pay attention.
A Like Reply 3 days ago in reply to Charles___Darwin
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Charles___Darwin
1 comment
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I'm not saying it's wrong, in this case. This accident was a travesty and someone should pay.
A Like Reply 2 days ago in reply to drifter
1 Like Report Abuse

ZOOT
1 comment
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You're rigt, it should be, but it won't...DJJ Management just doesn't care, the Governor and Legislature don't care, and the public don't care enough to swamp them with emails and letters and phone calls to pressure them to DO something to clean up their mess.
A Like Reply 2 days ago in reply to drifter
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ZOOT
1 comment
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IT WAS HIS VEHICLE !!!
A Like Reply 2 days ago in reply to Thomas Chamberlin
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nwlatino76
1 comment
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So sad that a teen lost their life but at least he IS no longer.  Justice is served and he will no more put anyone else's life in danger, AMEN.
A Like Reply 3 days ago
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urkiddingright
2 comments
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how did this guy even have a license in the first place after so many violations?
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ZOOT
1 comment
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Did you even read the article? His license was suspended !!!
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vic1
2 comments
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Who owns the vehicle? How did he have access to the keys?  Did he have a valid driver license?The sad thing is that he was a very high at risk employee working with troubled teens so why was he even hired?????This organization needs to have their contract terminated with the State of Florida.
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Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/19/2 ... qus_thread#storylink=cpy
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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2011, 05:13:58 AM »
Comments, pg 2

Showing 11-17 of 17 comments

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ZOOT
1 comment
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Atilard was driving his own, personal vehicle, with the State wards in it, at the time of the "accident". His license was suspended. He obviously was NOT an "intelligent young man", as described by one of former colleague in an employment reference. If he was, he wouldn't have been driving, and he and the other young man would still be alive. However, the real fault lies with AMIkids, the company that he worked for.. Their incompetence in supervising their employee demonstrates such a disregard for the wellbeing of the youth in their cutody, it requires investigation as a criminal matter. Of course, because those who own/run the company are friends with the big shots who run the Dept. of Juvenile Justice, there will be a whitewash, and everything will return to the same old SOP, with no real corrective action, no real sanctions for the Supervisors or Management and no real accountability for DJJ. and more children will suffer and die.
A Like Reply 2 days ago in reply to vic1
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siboney2
1 comment
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LET  NORIEGA SING !
A Like Reply 2 days ago 0 Like Report Abuse

Chenzo
1 comment
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That's the thing with these kinds of drivers.  They don't care about rules and laws.  You can take away their licenses and they will still drive.
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wendywonder
1 comment
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"At-risk boys" is right!
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walrusandowl
1 comment
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Privatization 101 .A private contractor hires employees without background checks and fails to provide appropriate supervision or oversight for the children they are paid to protect. State signs contracts that  aren't enforced, fails to monitor private contractors, and loses track of the kids. Children fall in the cracks and die.
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Marc Medios , Independent thinker, altruistic but distrusting, highly cynical about our elected officials
1 comment
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I hope some lawyer takes them for all the money in the world. From employing known lethal drivers to letting him drive to bad supervision, it's appaling
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Naplesbob
1 comment
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Would not have happened in a Union shop. In fact he would not have been hired by the State, due to his record. Yes Gov. Scott the blood of this young man is on your hands. You will never be able to whipe it away.
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Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/19/2 ... qus_thread#storylink=cpy
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Offline Ursus

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2011, 12:18:48 AM »
From the above article:

Quote
AMIkids' Big Cypress Wilderness Institute in Ochopee is a 35-bed residential program for at-risk boys ages 14 to 18.
Y'all do understand, I hope, that AMIKIDS is a huge part of how The Seed even came to be?
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »
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Offline cmack

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2011, 12:28:06 AM »
Quote from: "Ursus"
From the above article:

Quote
AMIkids' Big Cypress Wilderness Institute in Ochopee is a 35-bed residential program for at-risk boys ages 14 to 18.
Y'all do understand, I hope, that AMIKIDS is a huge part of how The Seed even came to be?

Please tell?
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Offline cmack

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2012, 01:03:50 AM »
http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2012/jan ... sh-driver/

Lawsuit filed over fatal 'Swamp boys' crash; driver had 18 tickets, suspended license

    By AISLING SWIFT
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 10:05 p.m.

Johnson Atilard


The parents of a Gulf Coast High School student killed during an at-risk youth outing last month are suing the driver's estate and his employer, alleging they let him drive teens despite knowing his bad driving record.

José L. and Anita Huerta of Bonita Springs are suing the estate of Johnson Atilard, 25, of Cape Coral, and Big Cypress Wilderness Institute Inc. over the crash in Ochopee that killed their 17-year-old son, Daniel, as he and six other teens returned on Dec. 11 from a flag football game in Daytona Beach.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Collier Circuit Court, alleges Atilard's employer, a state Department of Juvenile Justice contractor, knew of his past driving and criminal history, that his license was suspended and warned him in a February 2011 memo that he was not fit to operate company vehicles for the AMIkids' Big Cypress program in Ochopee, Collier County.

Collier and Lee county court records show Atilard had been ticketed 18 times since 2006, including five times for speeding, once for driving on the wrong side of the road, driving an unsafe vehicle and leaving the scene of a crash.

"Here you have a guy who lied about his driving record and who provided alcohol to kids," said the Huertas' attorney, Stephen Schwed of Palm Beach Gardens. "He looks like an accident waiting to happen. ... And you're not going to fire him after he lied on his job application?"

" ... He was driving like a lunatic," said Schwed, co-counsel on the lawsuit with Howard Kanner of Delray Beach. "The family of another kid said they were telling him to slow down."

Atilard was returning the seven teens to AMIkids Big Cypress center, a wilderness institute for at-risk youth known as "Swamp Kids," and lost control while negotiating a nearly 90-degree turn on Wagon Wheel Road, about three miles west of Turner River Road. The 2003 Ford Expedition hit a traffic sign and flipped into a canal at about 10 p.m., killing him and Huerta and causing minor injuries to the six others.

Records show, Atilard's license had been suspended six times and that night, his license had been suspended three months.

His record also includes providing alcohol to a minor, a misdemeanor charge that ended in a no-contest plea, but didn't end in conviction due to a deferred prosecution agreement. And in the months after his July 2010 hiring, records show, he racked up nine tickets, including four for speeding, failure to obey a traffic control device, a red light running violation and improper right turn.

The president of Big Cypress Wilderness Institute, Scott Hennells, was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment, but the vice president, Jim Meerpohl, said the institute is a local board for AMIkids that provides local input and insight into what would benefit the kids and community.

He referred questions to AMIkids, but called the crash a tragedy the board would discuss at its meeting next week.

"It's a horrible curve," Meerpohl said. "It's dicey during the day, let alone at night."

Shawna Vercher, a spokeswoman for AMIkids, which provides 50 programs in nine states, said they can't comment on pending litigation. However, she said an internal investigation is continuing and as a result, AMIkids Big Cypress has a new director and will soon announce a new director of operations.

"Recognizing the tragic nature of the loss sustained by the Huerta family, we hope that an amicable resolution can be reached with the family," Vercher said.

Atilard's relatives couldn't be reached for comment.

The lawsuit cites Atilard's history of driving infractions and his misdemeanor arrest and no-contest plea for providing alcohol to minors.

"Despite actual and/or constructive knowledge of all of these facts, Cypress entrusted the lives of seven boys to Atilard for a drive covering hundreds of miles in each direction on a single day," the lawsuit says, alleging that Cypress' negligent entrustment caused Huerta's death.

The lawsuit also seeks damages for the negligence of Atilard, contends Cypress is vicariously liable for his negligence because it employed him, and was negligent for hiring and retaining him.

"Cypress became aware that Atilard had falsified his application for employment regarding his past traffic and criminal history," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks damages for medical and funeral expenses, pain and suffering and mental pain and suffering for the Huertas.

"The liability issues rise to the level of recklessness and carelessness that result in punitive damages," Schwed said of punitive damages, which often result in hefty jury awards and are meant to punish and deter wrongdoing by sending a message.

AMIkids' insurance policy is $11 million, he said, and a settlement conference is expected soon.

"I already know the circumstances," he said of liability, adding that he's looking into who authorized the trip and knew Atilard was driving. "This is a nightmare for an employer. I just think it's pathetic that they would hire this guy. ... I'm sure there are a lot of people embarrassed by this and the firings aren't over."

He doubted this was Atilard's first drive since the February memo.

Huerta enrolled in the wilderness program when he was deemed a juvenile delinquent after a school fight, Schwed said. Heurta was scheduled to complete the program on Dec. 23 and had spoken to military recruiters, Schwed said.

"He was going to come home for Christmas and tell his parents as a Christmas present that he was going to join the Marines," Schwed said. "He was a success story and they killed him."

A Florida Highway Patrol crash report, which shows Huerta sitting behind Atilard, says air bags didn't deploy, but Atilard and Huerta wore seat belts, as did four others.

The report says Atilard was driving in a careless or negligent manner and was speeding, at least 45 mph in a 30-mph zone before veering left onto a grassy shoulder. The SUV hit a traffic sign and overturned into the canal, where troopers found it partially submerged.

"His parents want to know 'How did this happen? Did he die peacefully?' " Schwed said, adding that they were told he drowned.

They learned of the crash after a friend called at 2 a.m., he said, adding that AMIkids paid for the funeral, but didn't speak to them or send flowers.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Offline cmack

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2012, 01:21:40 AM »
From the above article:

Quote
Huerta enrolled in the wilderness program when he was deemed a juvenile delinquent after a school fight, Schwed said. Heurta was scheduled to complete the program on Dec. 23 and had spoken to military recruiters, Schwed said.

Part of the school to prison pipeline. When I was in school a fight might, at most, get you a paddling or detention. In middle school, if the coaches caught you fighting they'd give you boxing gloves and take you behind the gym and make you fight it out. It guess that was their brand of aversion therapy.
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Offline Ursus

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2012, 05:56:42 PM »
Another AMIkids facility that has been brought up on this forum previously:


They use William Glasser's Reality Therapy, considered by some to be an offshoot of Guided Group Interaction. I've also read of Reality Therapy being one of the components of Straight's magic mix.

Oliver Keller (one of the founders of AMIkids) was quite familiar with all or most of those group-based psychological coercion methodologies when he interrupted his thesis work to take on the top dog job in Florida's juvenile corrections system. At the time, the goal was to phase out the physical coercion practiced at places like Marianna, a brutal hellhole that even had its own private (probably unofficial) cemetery for the young lives extinguished at the hands of whip- and paddle-wielding sadists.
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Offline cmack

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2012, 06:54:55 PM »
I think Eckerd uses/used Reality Therapy too.

http://www.fornits.com/wwf/viewtopic.ph ... 46#p345717

http://www.wglasser.com/index.php?optio ... &Itemid=28

Quote
http://www.wglasser.com/index.php?optio ... &Itemid=28

Reality Therapy

Reality Therapy is the method of counseling that Dr. Glasser has been teaching since 1965. Reality therapy is firmly based on choice theory and its successful application is dependent on a strong understanding of choice theory. Reality therapy training is available to anyone...the first step in learning this tool is to enroll in a Basic Intensive Training.

Since unsatisfactory or non-existent connections with people we need are the source of almost all human problems, the goal of reality therapy is to help people reconnect. To create a connection between people, the reality therapy counselor, teacher or manager will:

 

    Focus on the present and avoid discussing the past because all human problems are caused by unsatisfying present relationships.


    Avoid discussing symptoms and complaints as much as possible since these are the ways that counselees choose to deal with unsatisfying relationships.


    Understand the concept of total behavior, which means focus on what counselees can do directly - act and think. Spend less time on what they cannot do directly; that is, change their feelings and physiology. Feelings and physiology can be changed, but only if there is a change in the acting and thinking.


    Avoid criticizing, blaming and/or complaining and help counselees to do the same. By doing this, they learn to avoid some extremely harmful external control behaviors that destroy relationships.


    Remain non-judgmental and non-coercive, but encourage people to judge all they are doing by the choice theory axiom: Is what I am doing getting me closer to the people I need? If the choice of behaviors is not working, then the counselor helps clients find new behaviors that lead to a better connection.


    Teach counselees that legitimate or not, excuses stand directly in the way of their making needed connections.


    Focus on specifics. Find out as soon as possible who counselees are disconnected from and work to help them choose reconnecting behaviors. If they are completely disconnected, focus on helping them find a new connection.


    Help them make specific, workable plans to reconnect with the people they need, and then follow through on what was planned by helping them evaluate their progress. Based on their experience, counselors may suggest plans, but should not give the message that there is only one plan. A plan is always open to revision or rejection by the counselee.


    Be patient and supportive but keep focusing on the source of the problem - the disconnectedness. Counselees who have been disconnected for a long time will find it difficult to reconnect. They are often so involved in the symptom they are choosing that they have lost sight of the fact that they need to reconnect. Help them to understand, through teaching them choice theory and encouraging them to read the book, Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, that whatever their complaint, reconnecting is the best possible solution to their problem.
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Offline cmack

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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #13 on: January 05, 2012, 02:24:40 AM »
http://www.abc-7.com/story/16448270/201 ... sons-death

Family sues wilderness camp over son's death

Posted: Jan 04, 2012 6:24 PM EST Updated: Jan 04, 2012 6:24 PM EST
COLLIER COUNTY, FL -

The family of a Bonita Springs teen is suing the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute for the death of their son. He voluntarily enrolled in the camp to turn his life around. Instead he was killed in a vehicle crash with an employee behind the wheel.

The family of 17-year-old Daniel Huerta says the man who was driving, Johnson Atilard, had no right to be working at the camp.

The accident happened in Ochopee December 8th as Atilard drove seven teenagers back to the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute – a camp for at-risk youth.

Florida Highway Patrol says Atilard failed to negotiate a near ninety degree turn, which caused the van to flip and land in a canal.

Both Atilard and Huerta were killed.

"You wouldn't trust this person to drive you down the block, let alone 500 miles in one day," said Huerta family attorney Stephen Schwed.

Schwed says the family is suing the camp, questioning why their son's life was in the hands of a man with 15 traffic violations in the past five years.

"They allowed this gentleman to drive that day on a long trip unescorted without any other employees. The question needs to be asked why he was employed there," said Schwed.

The lawsuit reveals the Huerta family is seeking damages for funeral costs, mental pain and suffering as well as medical costs.

At the site of the crash, a memorial is all the family has left of a son the Huerta's say had so much to offer.

"He wasn't a delinquent by any means - he was trying to make a life for himself," said Schwed.

We reached out to AMI Kids, which manages the program at the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute along with the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Shawna Vercher of AMIkids, Inc. issued the following statement:

    We have been provided with a courtesy copy of the lawsuit which apparently has now been filed on behalf of the parents of Daniel Huerta.  The general corporate practice is not to comment on matters involved in litigation.  As with any lawsuit, this matter has been turned over to the appropriate individuals and entities who will be handling the lawsuit on behalf of AMIkids Big Cypress.  Recognizing the tragic nature of the loss sustained by the Huerta family, we hope that an amicable resolution can be reached with the family.

    As to the status of the relationship between AMIkids Big Cypress or AMIkids, Inc. and DJJ, we continue to cooperate with them in their investigation of this matter.  Regarding the day-to-day operations at AMIkids Big Cypress, based on the internal investigation completed to date, and in the best interest of the kids who are in our program, a new executive director has been put into place and we are in the process of naming a new director of operations.

The Department of Juvenile Justice issued this statement after the accident

    On the evening of Thursday, December 8, a vehicle carrying seven youths and driven by an employee of the AMIkids program in Collier County, a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) contract provider, was involved in an accident in the Florida Everglades. The employee was driving the youths back to the program from an athletic event earlier in the day. Emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene and transported the driver and youths to the nearest hospital.

    The driver, Johnson Atilard, 25, of Cape Coral, and one of the youths, Daniel Huerta, 17, of Bonita Springs, were pronounced dead at the hospital. The other six youths were treated for non-life threatening injuries.

    The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) is investigating the accident and the DJJ Inspector General is conducting an investigation to determine compliance with agency and provider policies, procedures and standards.

    "All of us at DJJ are profoundly saddened at the loss of life and injuries sustained in this tragic accident," said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters. "We express our deepest condolences to the relatives of Johnson Atilard and Daniel Huerta."

    "At this time, we remain focused on meeting the needs of the kids and staff at the AMIkids campus," added O.B. Stander, President and CEO of AMIkids. "We have provided mental health counselors to our students and staff who have been greatly impacted by this tragic loss. We extend our deepest sympathies to families during this very difficult time."
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Re: Big Cypress Wilderness Institute driver kills child in c
« Reply #14 on: January 05, 2012, 07:30:55 AM »
I had no idea about AMI's history and 'Reality Therapy', thanks for the edumacation.

This article says it grew out of FOSI, is that related to The Seed?

Quote
AMIkids’ roots go back to 1969 and the Florida Ocean Sciences Institute, first based at Florida Atlantic University. FOSI broke the mold of harsh treatment of juvenile offenders by offering troubled kids a structured program of education and meaningful work on marine environmental issues.

This grew into AMIkids, which now has 50 residential and day treatment programs in nine states. The Big Cypress institute is based in Ochopee in the middle of the Big Cypress Swamp, a national preserve. A non-secure center for boys deemed at “moderate risk,” it follows the FOSI model, with environmental work, this time in the Everglades.

Here's the full article:
http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/26/2 ... appen.html

An accident waiting to happen


Posted on Monday, 12.26.11

OUR OPINION: State failed to protect DJJ kids in vehicle
By The Miami Herald Editorial
HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

The accidental deaths earlier this month of a 17-year-old boy and the young man charged with his care and the injuries to six other boys — all in a vehicle that plunged into a canal — were as unnecessary as they are tragic. The boys had no choice in this matter; they were delinquent kids in state custody, placed in a private school.

The driver, Johnson Atilard, 25, had incurred 18 traffic tickets in five years plus a charge to which he pleaded no contest of giving alcohol to a minor. Yet, AMIkids, a contractor to the state Department of Juvenile Justice, allowed seven boys to drive with him to an event in the Everglades with a return late at night. Mr. Atilard lost control of his Ford Expedition and crashed into a sign before the SUV drove into the murky water.

Mr. Atilard of Cape Coral and Daniel Huerta of Bonita Springs lost their lives. The other boys were treated for injuries considered non-life threatening.

Yet, when Mr. Atilard was hired he mentioned few of his violations on his April 2010 application. In February, apparently, the company had discovered his less-than-stellar record and told him by memo he was not to drive any company vehicle or to drive the boys in his own car. Seems he wouldn’t be covered by the company insurance policy and driving kids would open it to “great liability.”

Although the memo expressed hope that he would qualify as a driver when a three-year window on some of his violations lapsed, he received five more tickets afterward.

On his record were multiple charges of speeding plus hit-and-run, running a light, driving on the wrong side of the road, making an improper turn as well as “unknowingly” driving on a suspended license. One wonders why Mr. Atilard with this record could not know his license was suspended, indeed, why it had not revoked.

How then did seven of the 35 boys at the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute end up in his SUV?

AMIkids’ roots go back to 1969 and the Florida Ocean Sciences Institute, first based at Florida Atlantic University. FOSI broke the mold of harsh treatment of juvenile offenders by offering troubled kids a structured program of education and meaningful work on marine environmental issues.

This grew into AMIkids, which now has 50 residential and day treatment programs in nine states. The Big Cypress institute is based in Ochopee in the middle of the Big Cypress Swamp, a national preserve. A non-secure center for boys deemed at “moderate risk,” it follows the FOSI model, with environmental work, this time in the Everglades.

DJJ rates its work as “acceptable,” a middling score. Mr. Atilard’s work review found him “hardworking” and “dedicated.”It might be tempting to say that AMIkids simply had two lapses — a failure to investigate his background thoroughly and a failure to communicate to all staff that he was not to drive the youth in its care.

But DJJ has a higher obligation to children whom it has taken into custody. It should both ensure its investigation of this incident is complete and also that the backgrounds and driving records of all adults who have contact with children have been verified and safeguards enforced.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »