Michael Strecker was just 17 years old when he died on September 12, 2021, during a school-sponsored senior class hiking trip on South Baldface Mountain in New Hampshire. Berman & Simmons attorney Michael Bigos is leading the legal team bringing suit against Lake Region School District (MSAD #61), Superintendent Alan Smith, and humanities teacher Jessica K. Daggett on behalf of the Strecker family. The lawsuit—filed in the Federal District Court in Portland—lays out how Michael’s death resulted from the school’s unconstitutional policies, customs, final decisions, and failure to equip and train its employees chaperoning the trip. It also alleges that Superintendent Smith and Daggett are individually liable for negligence, and that Daggett, specifically, inflicted emotional distress on the boy prior to his death.
Unconstitutional policies claim the life of teenager Michael Strecker
The students began hiking up the Bald Face Circle Trail at approximately 8:45am. Shortly into the hike, Michael alerted chaperones—including Daggett—that he was fatigued, unable to continue the hike, and wanted to “go back.” During pre-trip information sessions, the District had promised students that none would be forced to complete the hike and could “turn back” when desired. The lawsuit alleges that pleas from Strecker and other students to turn around were denied. It is also alleged that during the hike, students were only offered a handful of short breaks, their water access was restricted, and, at times, they even endured harsh language by Daggett.
For Michael, the grueling hike was difficult from the start, and he was never able to reach the summit of the mountain. Then, on the return trip down the mountain, Michael’s condition worsened. He collapsed, began mumbling incoherently, vomited, and went into cardiac arrest. Because none of the District’s chaperones had access to satellite communications, one of the teachers on the trip was forced to flee in a vehicle in a desperate search for cellular service. Eventually, First Responders were dispatched and, after a protracted hike to reach Michael, attempted to administer life-saving procedures. Despite attempts to revive Michael, he was pronounced dead at 9:03pm, having succumbed to heat stroke.
Schools must be held accountable for inhumane policies that put students at risk
“Parents send their children into the care of a school trusting they will be safe and protected,” said Attorney Bigos. “In Michael’s case, the unthinkable happened. Michael was in obvious distress when he asked his teachers for help on a class outing. Instead of getting the aid he needed, his chaperones tortured him, denying him the care that contributed to his death. The policies and procedures of the school were, from the start, dangerous and unconstitutional. The District’s policies, customs, decisions, and actions all predictably worked to deny Michael his constitutional rights. They were each part of an inherently dangerous plan—and when you make a dangerous plan, you plan to be dangerous. To make our community safer and to protect all Maine students on outdoor experiential trips, this school, its superintendent and the teacher who carried out the unconstitutional policies of the school must be held accountable for their behavior.”
Newscenter Maine reporter Alex Haskell spoke with attorney Bigos, and a classmate of Michael’s who was on the trip to New Hampshire and witnessed his distress: Classmate speaks out amid lawsuit over MSAD 61 student’s death | newscentermaine.com