Local News

Family, IMPACT Leaders Say Call Wanted to Turn Her Life Around

Posted June 11, 1998

— The 17-year-old girl with asthma who died Friday while participating in a new military-style boot camp for women on probation wanted to turn her life around, according to her fathers and others who knew her.

Starlena Call of Wilkes County died shortly after midnight at Richmond Memorial Hospital in Rockingham, said Patty McQuillan, the spokeswoman. Official autopsy results are not back yet, but it appears Call died following an asthma attack. The teen was treated by a nurse at the camp Thursday and was later transported to the hospital, McQuillan said.

``She was having trouble with asthma during the day,'' McQuillan said.

Fourteen offenders, including Call, arrived Monday in Hoffman to participate in first IMPACT program for women ages 16 to 30. Call had been convicted of larceny, McQuillan said.

Call came to the IMPACT program as an alternative to serving time in prison. Her leaders say she showed an immediate commitment to the cause, but there was some question whether she would be allowed to participate because of her history of asthma.

The camp doctor told her to keep her medication and asked for additional medical records before making a decision.

"She certainly was not assigned to anything physical before we could determine how serious [her asthma] was, whether she could fulfill the rigorous training here, or whether we did need to release her because of her medical condition," said Sherry Pilkington, assistant director of field services for the N.C. Department of Correction.

After an emotionally brutal first day, the rest of the first week had been set aside for classroom activities, and correction officials say her asthma attack could not have been brought on by any intense physical activity.

Doctors, however, say stress can be a triggering factor, and there was no lack of stress in the program. While the camp's goal is to train these inmates to turn their lives around, some handle the training methods better than others.

"Stress kicks of asthma to some degree," says IMPACT camp leader Col. John Taylor. "The doctor talked with [Call] about it, and between them they decided that she could go ahead and try it."

A judge can impose an IMPACT sentence on anyone he or she chooses, but officials stress that it is ultimately the inmate's choice to attend. By all accounts, Call did want to attend.

The 13 women remaining in the program are now wearing star-shaped badges in memory of Call. They say they will wear them until graduation from the program.

The state already runs two 90-day boot camps for male offenders. This is the first death at an IMPACT camp, McQuillan said.

All of the women received physical examinations during camp orientation. Call had a history of medical problems, according to McQuillan, and a doctor at the orientation requested her medical records.

``The doctor was trying to decide whether to send her home or not,'' McQuillan said. ``But she wanted to stay.''

Physical activity is required of camp participants, who must agree to participate in the IMPACT program. The women were still in classroom training and were scheduled to participate in a ropes course this weekend, McQuillan said.

According to her family, Call was determined to take control of both her asthma and her life.

"Well, at first I thought 'how rough are they?'" says Call's father. "And I was assured that she wouldn't be allowed to go into camp if it was going to be too strenuous on her."

Call's family says they are not upset with the way IMPACT officials have handled this situation, but they add that, if the attack had happened at home, they would have been able to get Call to the hospital in time to save her.

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