Post article on Accident
Elisa McClelland (elisamc@CAPACCESS.ORG)
Wed, 6 Aug 1997 08:21:34 -0400
Scout Dies In Accident At Jamboree
Youth, 16, Lost Control While Driving Humvee
By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 6, 1997; Page B01
The Washington Post
FORT A.P. HILL, Va., Aug. 5A 16-year-old Boy Scout driving a U.S. Army
Humvee without permission or training at the Scouts' National Jamboree
was killed Monday night when he lost control of the military transport
vehicle, causing it to overturn on the shoulder of a winding dirt
The accident, in which two other Scouts were injured, cast a heavy
shadow on the quadrennial gathering of 30,000 Scouts at this Army
training facility 80 miles south of Washington. The jamboree, which
ended today, is a nine-day event at which Scouts normally revel in
camping, fishing, biking and other outdoor activities.
Police said Robert Combes, of Finleyville, Pa., who was not wearing a
seat belt, was thrown from the driver's window of the Humvee and then
pinned under the vehicle after it flipped over. It was one of 16
Humvees the Army had lent to the Boy Scouts for delivery of supplies
at the jamboree, and Combes was among the volunteers making the
Combes was not supposed to be driving the Humvee because he was under
18 and lacked required training, Scout officials said. He obtained his
learner's permit to drive a car only two months ago, according to
The teenager apparently persuaded the three other Scouts in the
Humvee, all 18, to let him have a turn behind the wheel, said 1st Sgt.
Anthony Lippa of the Virginia State Police.
"The boy just wanted to drive, and he asked the others," Lippa said.
"You have a situation with an inexperienced driver . . . going fast
enough that they were bouncing and coming around a curve and losing
Scouting officials said that they did not try to monitor who was
driving the Humvees and that they trusted the Scouts who were
authorized to drive to keep others from doing so. About 150 Scouts and
Scout leaders in the supply operation had obtained a special Army
license to drive the vehicles after taking a 3 1/2-hour training
"I don't know that there's a lot more we could have done," said Gregg
Shields, a national Scout spokesman.
Police said they had not determined how fast Combes was driving. They
said there was no indication drugs or alcohol were involved.
The front-seat passenger, David Lundstrom, of Rockford, Ill., wore a
seat belt and was not injured, although he was held for observation at
a hospital at Fort A.P. Hill and was released today. There were no
seat belts in the rear of the Humvee, which was configured for cargo
and had only two benches in back.
Nathaniel Searls, of Sioux City, Iowa, one of the two Scouts sitting
in the back, was treated for back pain at Mary Washington Hospital in
Fredericksburg, Va., and released.
The other, David Lipson, of Moon Township, Pa., suffered a clavicle
fracture and remained at Mary Washington Hospital in stable condition.
The Army has used the Humvee, short for High-Mobility Multipurpose
Wheeled Vehicle, since 1985 to replace its older Jeeps.
Several automotive safety experts said the Humvee could pose problems
for anyone not used to driving a vehicle of that bulk.
"Once you make a turn and you overcorrect, you're throwing that weight
of the vehicle totally in the opposite direction," said Robert
Livingstone, director of automotive services for the American
Automobile Association's Potomac chapter.
"With a vehicle of this nature, it doesn't really take that much, once
you get the physical weight moving, to keep it going. These aren't
really designed for high speed."
David E. Davis Jr., editor of Automobile Magazine in Ann Arbor, Mich.,
said the Humvee was too hard to handle for someone as young and
inexperienced as Combes. "A 16-year-old high on testosterone has
absolutely no business driving a vehicle like that," he said.
As Combes's parents flew to Virginia today, neighbors and other Boy
Scout parents in Finleyville, a town about 20 miles southeast of
Pittsburgh, remembered the teenager as a kind young man who was
reserved but had become more outgoing.
"The whole neighborhood is distraught," said John Ferrence, the
Combeses' next-door neighbor. "He was a very, very nice young man. He
was no trouble for anyone. He was in Scouting all his life."
Patricia Staley, whose husband, Leonard, is the scoutmaster for
Combes's troop, said the teenager had taken on a leadership role.
"He always helped younger Scouts. You couldn't say a bad thing about
him, really," she said.
Combes was about to enter his junior year at Ringgold High School, and
he was chosen to attend the jamboree as a support staff volunteer
because of his work in July at Heritage Reservation, a Scout
leadership camp in Farmington, Pa., Staley said.
"It's devastating," said Brian Smoley, 15, of Pittsburgh. "Rob was a
real good friend."
Scouts organized a memorial service for Combes tonight at the
But many of the Scouts here did not know about the accident.
Scout officials said it would have been logistically difficult to make
a jamboree-wide announcement about Combes's death, and Pittsburgh area
Scout leaders said they wanted to wait until their Scouts were home so
the boys could deal with their grief with their parents nearby for
"We're trying to get through the end of this without them getting
worked up about this," said David Fohr, a scoutmaster from the
Pittsburgh area. "These boys don't need to know right now."
Some Scouts criticized the officials' decision to avoid spreading the
word about the accident and proceed with the normal jamboree schedule.
"It seems like it should have been canceled," said William Scipio, 13,
of Baltimore. "We should have had a moment of silence or something.
Everybody should have been told what happened."
Scout officials said this was the second death at a National Jamboree,
an event that dates to 1937. At the 1977 jamboree, in Pennsylvania, a
Scout was struck by lightning.
Monday's accident happened about 8:15 p.m. on a bumpy dirt and gravel
road about three miles from the camp where Combes and the three other
volunteers were staying.
The road, shrouded by pine trees, has been used mostly by Scout
volunteers and supply vehicles.
Combes was driving west and veered off the right shoulder, then veered
back, running onto the left shoulder, and he then turned right,
overturning on the right shoulder, Lippa said.
The volunteers in Combes's vehicle had been assigned to deliver ice at
the jamboree. But police said they believe that the trip the four
Scouts were making when the accident occurred -- to pick up ice at a
supply trailer -- had not been authorized.
Shields, the national Scouts spokesman, said the jamboree used Humvees
to carry supplies because the vehicles can easily traverse rough
He and Army officials said that properly trained 18-year-olds should
not have difficulty operating the Humvees, and he said Scout officials
were not concerned about continuing that practice.
Some Scouts said they thought that driving Humvees was dangerous for
their peers, even those who are 18 years old.
"Just the Army should be driving those," said Brian Howle, 17, of
"They're the ones who are a lot more trained. You should prevent
things like this from happening in the first place."
Staff writer Sewell Chan contributed to this report.
Here are some facts about the High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled
Vehicle, dubbed the "Humvee" by U.S. service personnel, that killed a
16-year-old Boy Scout and injured two other Scouts Monday night at the
National Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. The teenager lost
control of the vehicle, which is designed to traverse difficult
terrain, causing it to overturn.
The Humvee's body is raised up to 12 inches off the ground, and the
distance between tires is much wider than on ordinary cars -- six feet
between the centers of the left and right tires. The Humvee also has a
low center of gravity, and it can remain stable on a 40 percent
Safety features in passenger cars that are not found in military
Humvees include air bags, safety latches and side-impact rails that
protect passengers from lateral collisions.
Automotive specialists said that someone who is not used to driving a
Humvee might have trouble negotiating sharp turns and maintaining
control of the vehicle after a sudden swerve.
Humvee M998 specifications
Length: 15 feet.
Width: about 7 feet.
Weight: 5,200 pounds.
Height: 4.5 to 6 feet.
@CAPTION: A crowd of reporters and cameramen surrounds Virginia State
Police 1st Sgt. Anthony Lippa as he answers questions about the
accident at Fort A.P. Hill.
@CAPTION: In a July 28 photo, Robert Combes delivered ice to fellow
Boy Scouts at the jamboree from the back of a Humvee similar to the
one he crashed Monday.
@CAPTION: Brian Smoley, 15, of Pittsburgh, had attended a Scout
leadership training camp with Robert Combes, 16.
) Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City