Insurance woes force boys ranch to close

PLAIN, Chelan County — The Alpine Boys Ranch, a private boarding school for troubled youth, plans to close because it has been unable to obtain affordable liability insurance.

The 27-year-old school's policy was canceled earlier this year after a lawsuit was filed against Alpine in the death of a Spokane teenager who walked away from a hiking trip and drowned at Cub Lake three years ago.

School Director Bryce Townley said he had no choice but to make plans to close the boarding school July 31.

"We've had 500 boys come through here, and they (insurance companies) are telling us we have to stop because of one claim that hasn't even been settled," Townley told The Wenatchee World.

The lawsuit was filed in October against the school and the state Department of Social and Health Services on behalf of the parents of Joseph Bolt Jr.

The 17-year-old's death was determined to be an accident. No criminal charges were filed.

But the school failed to report the Bolts' lawsuit to its insurer, an oversight Townley characterized as a misunderstanding. When the insurance company learned of the lawsuit in February, it declined to renew the school's liability coverage.

John Connelly Jr., the lawyer representing the Bolts, contends the school's insurance problems have occurred because its policies are inadequate to protect children. "They did not know what they were doing, and now to blame the Bolts for their own failures is the reason they're in the predicament they are in," he said.

There are six students enrolled at Alpine, which charges $3,000 a month for tuition.

The school opened in 1976 to provide a Christian setting for troubled boys from the state foster-care system.

In 1999, the Chelan County sheriff's office investigated allegations of sexual incidents and a rape at the ranch. No criminal charges were filed, but investigators determined the state had placed a sex offender at the ranch without telling the staff.