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Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Fayette and 11 EMTs

A wrongful death lawsuit against Fayette County and 11 county emergency medical technicians was filed in Spalding County State Court late last week. No dollar amount of damages being sought was given in the court papers.

The suit stems from the April 28, 2009 death of 57-year-old Fayette County resident Dickie Denney. The suit by Denney’s wife Charlene alleges that her husband’s death resulted from a number of errors including the administration of what became a fatal overdose of morphine.

Mrs. Denney filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Sept. 9 naming Fayette County, Fayette Emergency Medical Technician Jason Crenshaw and John Does 1-10 as defendants. Denney maintains in the suit that her husband’s death followed a number of errors made after EMTs arrived at their home. One of those alleged errors included a fatal dose of morphine sulphate.

Noting that Denney had oxycodone in his system (for which he had an active prescription for the past several years), the cause of death according to an autopsy by DeKalb medical consultant Dr. Gerald T. Gowitt was determined to be “opiate intoxication aggravating pre-existing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”

Contacted Monday, Fayette County Administrator Jack Krakeel said it would be inappropriate for him to make any comments on legal proceedings involving the county.

According to the lawsuit filed by Fayetteville attorney John Mrosek, Denney had worked his way through a series of heart attacks and had attained a good state of health after the installation of a pacemaker.

The lawsuit noted that Fayette County Emergency Services staff had visited the home on prior occasions without incident and had transported Denney to either Piedmont Fayette Hospital or Emory University Hospital. But that was not the case on April 28, 2009, the suit stated.

With Denney complaining of mild chest discomfort, EMTs were called to the Adams Road home, arriving there at 10:25 p.m. The home is a short distance from Tyrone Road and approximately 3.62 miles from Piedmont Fayette Hospital, according to the filing.

Once on the scene, the EMT that appeared to be in charge at the home was Spalding County resident Jason Crenshaw, according to the lawsuit.

During the home visit and after the initial diagnosis conducted by emergency medical staff, “they concluded that Mr. Denney was not in an emergency situation,” the suit stated, adding that EMT’s offered numerous treatment alternatives.

Denney said his level of pain was a “3” on a scale of 1-10. The family at some point decided that Denney should be transported to Emory University Hospital.

The lawsuit alleges that during his time at the Denney home Crenshaw “exhibited an angry, antagonistic and malicious attitude and tone to Mr. Denney and to his family and created, in the eyes of witnesses, an atmosphere of hate.”

The lawsuit adds that Crenshaw exhibited numerous breaches of national, state and local protocols and breaches of the standard of care from an emergency medical provider.

Crenshaw at some point is said to have administered morphine sulfate without consulting Charlene Denney and in contravention of the established national and state protocols for the administration of the drug, the lawsuit said, adding that Crenshaw’s explanation for administering the morphine was to “knock him out” for the ride to Emory.

The suit states that, “Less than 10 minutes after Mr. Crenshaw administered the morphine, he radioed to 911 dispatch a ‘Code 7,’ meaning that Mr. Denney had experienced the initial stages of life-threatening cardiac arrest in that his heart had stopped beating due to the inevitable depressive, analgesic effects of morphine coupled with the existing Oxycontin (oxycodone) in his system (in a patient with a history of cardiovascular disease) thus causing his heart to stop and quickly causing Mr. Denney’s death.”

The suit maintains that, “at some point prior to 11 p.m. Crenshaw and defendants decided to administer morphine sulfate without consulting Mrs. Denney” and that “Denney’s situation escalated from a non-emergency situation to a cardiac emergency at approximately 11:03 p.m. when his cardiac arrest started and was witnessed by Crenshaw.”

Crenshaw recognized the error of treating Denney with morphine, the suit stated.

The court filing also states that while in the ambulance Denney was given an injection of Narcan, “a drug designed to offset the depressive cardiac effects of morphine they had just given Mr. Denney.”

According to the filing, Charlene Denney returned from filling her husband’s overnight bag and seated herself in the ambulance. She was not made aware of the life-threatening condition of her husband, the suit states.

Once underway, Crenshaw radioed dispatch saying that Denney was being transported to Piedmont Fayette Hospital.

The suit questions the route taken by the ambulance crew. With the destination now listed as Piedmont Fayette rather than Emory, the suit questions why the ambulance headed north on Adams Road and stopped on the side of the road near Sandy Creek Road, a route to Piedmont Fayette that would be of significantly greater distance than if the ambulance had gone south on Adams Road to Tyrone Road then east to the hospital.

The suit states that, while parked along the roadway off Sandy Creek Road, two additional crews arrived at the scene.

Meanwhile, the ambulance in which Denney was being transported stayed at roadside for approximately 15 minutes before resuming the transport to Piedmont Fayette.

The ambulance arrived at the hospital at 11:24 p.m. and Denney was pronounced dead at 11:59 p.m., according to the suit.

Also noted in the suit was Charlene Denney’s attempt to secure an autopsy and a death certificate. Fayette County Coroner C.J. Mowell was called to the hospital, where he sent various records to the Georgia State Crime Lab. “... an on-duty physician there conferred with Mr. Mowell and concluded that the death of Mr. Denney occurred as a result of ‘natural causes,’” the suit states.

The filing said that once notified, Charlene Denney “disputed the same and pointed out that her husband had been injected with morphine and that that was the cause of death.

“Mr. Mowell rejected her comments and refused to order an autopsy or inquest and said that the matter was closed.

“When Mrs. Denney asked about an autopsy, Mr. Mowell refused and told her that she would have to search on the Internet and pay for an autopsy out of her own funds.

“Despite Mrs. Denney’s repeated demands ... Mr. Mowell refused to issue a death certificate in this case. It was only after he released jurisdiction in August of 2010, more than a year later, that another medical examiner was able to issue a death certificate showing the cause of death to be ‘opiate overuse.’”

The subsequent autopsy performed by Gowitt determined the cause of death to be “opiate intoxication aggravating pre-existing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”

Commenting last week after the lawsuit was filed, Charlene Denney said she is determined to find the answers to her questions.

“You think things like this don’t happen in real life. They knew in the driveway (of her home) there was a problem,” she said, adding that she is not afraid to take a stand on the issue of her husband’s death. “The biggest thing is trying to get the truth from the county and the truth about what happened that night. I couldn’t get the answers so I had to file suit.”

Denney said she does not want others to have to go through what her family experienced, adding that she wants cameras installed in the patient compartment of all ambulances and the capability of EMTs to be able to speak directly with emergency room physicians during cardio transports.

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