Paramedics punished for untreated victim

September 25, 2008 2:44:10 AM PDT
The certifications of three San Antonio paramedics who responded to a traffic collision in which a severely wounded but still-breathing victim was left untreated for hours have been suspended for six months by a state agency. The victim, 23-year-old Erica Smith, was eventually taken to a hospital, where she later died.

The Texas Department of State Health Services suspended the certifications of Mike Gardner, William Bullock and Jeremy Huntsman beginning Sept. 13, the San Antonio Express-News reports in its Wednesday online editions.

After the six-month suspension, they will enter a probation period of another six months.

The agency had considered suspending the paramedics' certification for one year but reassessed after meeting with them and discussing the fatal crash. The agency also withdrew a proposed reprimand to a fourth paramedic, Michael Collins.

Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that the paramedics were cooperative and had no previous disciplinary records.

"The medics understand their mistakes and are determined to learn from them," Williams said.

Williams said during the suspension period that Gardner, Bullock and Huntsman should get training in four areas: identifying and treating hypothermia, mass casualty triage incidents, open and closed head injuries and the fire department's criteria for pronouncing a patient dead on arrival.

Deputy Fire Chief David Martinez said Tuesday the collision and its aftermath prompted changes in how the fire department trains paramedics, including a protocol that at least two emergency responders check for a patient's pulse before pronouncing the patient dead.

Early on Dec. 16, 2007, a Pontiac GS driven by Jenny Ann Ybarra of Seguin veered into oncoming traffic on Loop 410 and collided with a Honda Accord in which Smith was the front-seat passenger. The Honda Accord driver, who police said was intoxicated, and a passenger in the back seat both had minor injuries.

Ybarra was indicted in June on charges of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault.

Smith, her brain exposed, was left untreated in the Accord. The state agency in part accused Gardner of failing to check for her vital signs even after he saw her move.

Collins and Gardner left the scene, and Bullock and Huntsman returned after a medical examiner's investigator noticed that Smith still was breathing. The state agency in part accused Huntsman and Bullock of not checking Smith's vital signs.

Following the accident, the fire department permanently barred Gardner from working as a paramedic in San Antonio and transferred him to the firefighting division. It also temporarily de-authorized Huntsman, Bullock and Collins as San Antonio paramedics and transferred them to the firefighting division -- a condition that still stands, according to fire union president Chris Steele.

The state's action keeps Huntsman and Bullock from working as paramedics within the next six months even if the fire department were to reauthorize them as paramedics. If Collins were reauthorized, he would be allowed to serve as a paramedic because no state action was taken against him.

Gardner can never work as a paramedic in San Antonio again and is barred from working as a paramedic anywhere in the state for the next six months.

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