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Professionals weigh in on deadly dune accident

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. -- After a 12-year-old boy scout died in a tragic accident Saturday on the dunes north of Van Buren State Park, professionals weigh in on the safety of the area.

"Just a very tragic, freak type of accident," said South Haven Police Chief Natalie Thompson.

12-year-old Gage Wilson had come to the North Point Conservation Area, just north of Van Buren State Park, for boy scout camp over the weekend.

South Haven Police say he was digging a hole into the side of a sand shelf that can measure around eight feet tall, when the sand collapsed on him a little before four o'clock in the afternoon Saturday.

"Of course now in hindsight, it was a dangerous situation, but just with the infrequency of ever having everything like that occur. you know dunes all along Lake Michigan, there'e erosion issues, but never that much education on safety," said Chief Thompson.

Unfortunately for the victims, Professor Peter Avis with Indiana University Northwest says it's all too predictable that something like this could happen.

"Given what's going on with the erosion, and you've got the roots from some of the grass as well as some of the tree roots stabilize a little section of it, but if you're digging in that, you're loosening all of that material up, and if there's a large amount of sand above you, that will crush you without a doubt," said mycologist and IU Northwest Professor, Peter Avis.

He contributed to a study done on Mount Baldy after a six-year-old boy fell in 2013 into one of the many sand holes they believe dot the Indiana Dunes thanks to the decomposition of trees below the sand.

His team says this incident, however, is due to slope failure, because of Wilson's digging.

Avis advises it could happen to any kid who's not thinking about the dangers of disrupting the sand's natural state.

Currently, there are no signs in the conservation area warning of any potential dangers.

The county owns it but says inspecting the safety of the land is typically not in its purview.

The Boy Scouts of America responded "no comment" when asked about changes in safety policies or camping routines in the area.

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