Criminal charges against EMTs in pregnant death?

December 22, 2009 3:32:59 PM PST
The Brooklyn District Attorney's office is looking into the actions of two emergency medical technicians accused of refusing to help a pregnant woman who collapsed in the coffee shop where they were taking a break. A spokesman for the office said Monday it was investigating to see if any laws were broken.

The Fire Department on Monday suspended Jason Green, a six-year veteran, and Melissa Jackson, a four-year veteran, without pay while the December 9 incident is investigated.

Witnesses said the EMTs told workers at the eatery in downtown Brooklyn to call 911 and then left when they were asked to help Eutisha Revee Rennix, an employee who had collapsed. She died soon after at an area hospital. Her baby did not survive.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that the technicians' behavior was inexcusable, saying the refusal to help goes against human decency.

"There's no excuse whatsoever," he said.

The lawyer for Green and Jackson says his clients are being vilified by a rush to judgment.

Douglas Rosenthal says he's confident the facts will show that Green and Jackson acted "appropriately."

When Rennix started having trouble breathing, one of the two EMTs did do something. According to an EMT dispatch printout of the incident obtained by Eyewitness News, an EMT, number 0816, called for an ambulance to assist a "female pregnant" women. It was confirmed that 0816 is, in fact, Jackson's dispatch number.

"I can't discuss that at this moment, but I do believe that will play an important role in their activities," Rosenthal said. "I am confident that the true facts and the evidence will reveal that my clients acted appropriately to the best of their abilities."

While the print out shows Jackson made the initial call for help, there is no indication that she and her colleague ever tried to assist Rennix, even though they were aware of the seriousness of the medical call, as indicated by the "D-I-F-F-B-R" on the dispatch log. That's shorthand for difficulty breathing. Sources close to the investigation tell Eyewitness News that the pair never went to the back of the cafe to assess the patient. Bob Unger heads the EMT Union.

"We don't know what went down in the coffee shop, but we do expect our members to step to the plate and do cursory examination of potential patient," he said.

The dispatch record shows Rennix was having a severe asthma attack and went into cardiac arrest. She died at the hospital, as did her baby. As the Brooklyn DA investigates whether to press any criminal charges, the thousands of other emergency medical technicians dedicated to saving lives, on and off duty, wonder what's to become of their reputations.

"More typical would be a case last year in which an off-duty EMT jumped onto subway tracks and pulled someone off the tracks seconds after the train came screeching through," Unger said.