9 Investigates

Local children’s ranch accused of failing to keep student safe

A young man is sharing his claims of sexual abuse as a teenager at a local children’s ranch, as a lawsuit against the ranch-owners heads to mediation in just a few weeks.  We’re not identifying the now-adult, who says the abuse was carried out by fellow bunkmates in the behavioral program.  The lawsuit, though, is aimed at the administrators of Edgewood Children’s Ranch, for failing to provide proper security.

Tucked away near Lake Hiawassee in Orange County, the Edgewood Children’s Ranch describes itself as a place that “provides children and their families a safe environment to change their behaviors and the course of their lives.”

The lawsuit, filed by a “John Doe,” lays out a claim that the environment wasn’t safe, and led to unchecked sexual abuse against a teen boy who came there for help.

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“I just want them to take responsibility for what happened, the same way I used to have to take responsibility for my actions at the ranch,” the plaintiff said.

The lawsuit claims during a time from 2016 to 2017, while staying in a cabin with other boys, four teens would wake him up ‘during the evening and make him perform sexual acts on them.’

The suit also claims there was “no supervision of the students after the cabin parents retired for the evening.”

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“He was a 14 year old boy at the time,” Attorney John Overchuck said.  “They just took advantage of him, sexual advantage of him.”

A criminal investigation into the incident went nowhere, but attorney John Overchuck says the burden of liability lies with the ranch administrators.

The suit claims though ‘cabin parents’ were in the same building as the kids, they had separate living quarters, and states that ‘there was no equipment, such as a baby monitor or video cameras,’ to watch the common areas of the cabin where the students slept.

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Attorneys for the ranch claim there were monitors, but they were able to be unplugged.

The attorneys for the ranch argued in court documents that ‘most of the students who graduate lead a better life because of the program itself and the caring teachers and cottage parents who work there.’  They also stated that the plaintiff was a “willing and consenting participant in the alleged sexual activity.”

“He was 14 years old, they literally attacked him and held him down, beat him up, there is nothing willing about what took place,” Overchuck said.

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Attorneys for the ranch told 9 Investigates they deny the claims and say the account will be “refuted by evidence” at a jury trial.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.