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Suit alleges mishaps by EMS led to death of Randolph woman

By Lawrence Smith | Mar 15, 2012

ELKINS -– A Randolph County woman is alleging a series of snafus committed by EMS personnel contributed to the death of her daughter.

The Randolph County Commission, the city of Elkins and two ambulance squads are named as co-defendants in a six-count wrongful death suit filed by Wilma D. Miller. In her complaint filed Feb. 3 in Randolph Circuit Court, Miller, 65, of Elkins, alleges the failure of ambulances to timely respond to multiple calls she made seeking medical assistance for her daughter, Melanie Nicole, ultimately led to Melanie's death.

According to the suit, Melanie on Feb. 6, 2010, suddenly "became very ill" at the home Wilma shares with her husband, Robert, on Westview Drive. About 9:52 a.m., Wilma called 911, which is operated locally by the Commission via its Office of Emergency Management.

Two minutes later, an operator at the 911 center dispatched a crew from the Randolph County Emergency Services to the Miller's address. A minute later, an unidentified person from RCES called the 911 center back suggesting they dispatch a crew from the Elkins unit of the Randolph County EMS Volunteers as the RCES crew was "'at the [gas] pumps ready to go to Morgantown.'"

According to the suit, the RCES crew "had no patient in the ambulance ... was not en route to an emergency call," but instead "was fueling up to make an inter-facility transport." Also, the RCES crew "failed to request any more information to determine which call might be of a higher priority."

At 9:56 a.m. the 911 center sent a dispatch to RCEMSV. Nobody from RCEMSV immediately responded.

Two minutes later, Wilma called the 911 center again saying Melanie was fading into unconsciousness, and she "'was going to die.'" Instead of remaining on the line to comfort Wilma, and obtain additional information, the suit alleges the operator hung-up on her.

At 10 a.m., the 911 center sent a second dispatch to RCEMSV. Ninety seconds later, Unit 787 responded saying they were en route to the Miller's address, and anticipated arrival in 40 seconds.

Shortly after the second dispatch, Robert called the 911 center "in a state of panic, to report ... Melanie was 'dying.'" Though he reported Melanie had "'all kinds of [health] problems,'" the suit alleges the operator failed to inquire as to what they were or provide Mr. Miller with any pre-arrival instructions.

According to the suit, Melanie was first diagnosed with a mixed connective tissue disease in 1993 when she was a student at Davis and Elkins College. In January 2010, she was also diagnosed with hypertension.

At 10:02 a.m. the 911 center sent out a broadcast that Unit 787 was handling the call. Two minutes later, they put out a second broadcast that "'Melanie had fallen.'"

At 10:09 a.m. Unit 787 contacted the 911 center saying "they were lost and unable to locate the Miller family residence." According to the suit, the 911 center gave directions to Unit 787 for the next 90 seconds as the crew "either did not have available or did not utilize a G[lobal] P[ositioning] S[ystem], navigational aids or standard maps."

Shortly after 10:16 a.m., RCEMSV Unit 787 reported to the 911 center they arrived at the Miller's home, "but that the family had left for the hospital." A minute later the crew "left the Miller home with an empty ambulance."

According to the suit, at that very moment Melanie was being wheeled in the emergency room at Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins. The ER staff attempted to stabilize her for the next three hours until a continual drop in her blood pressure sent her into cardiac arrest at 1:45 p.m., and resuscitation efforts were halted six minutes later.

She was 37.

According to her death certificate, Melanie's primary cause of death was a mydocardial infarction with gastroenteritis listed as a contributing factor. Dr. Eric Anger determined she died of natural causes.

In the suit, Wilma, who two months after Melanie's death qualified to be the administratrix of her estate, alleges the Commission, the city, RCES and RCEMSV all bear responsibility for Melanie's death. If Melanie had been transported to DMH in "timely" fashion, she maintains Melanie "would have had a greater than twenty-five percent chance of surviving the cardiac arrest that ended her life."

According to the suit, city officials as late as 2008-09 were aware of deficiencies with their 911 mapping system which would "prevent or thwart emergency responders to locate and find homes and businesses quickly." On an unspecified date, the city council voted against accepting the recommended improvements to addressing and numbering system which existed."

In the suit, Miller makes claims wrongful death, and negligence against the Commission, the city and RCES/RCEMSV. As a result of their negligence, Miller maintains she's incurred "medical, funeral and burial expenses" for Melanie as well as sorrow and mental anguish.

Miller seeks unspecified damages, interest court costs and attorneys fees. She is represented by Moundsville attorney C. Richard Wilson.

The case is assigned to Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong.

Randolph Circuit Court case number 12-C-31

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