Northumberland County faces suit over wife's death; dispatching issues spur legal action
A Catawissa man who says his wife died as a result of a poorly managed 911 Center is suing Northumberland County, Rush Township and various current and former county officials for at least $150,000 in federal court.
In a 63-page complaint filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania last month by Attorney Charles W. Marsar Jr. of RJ Marzella and Associates, Harrisburg, on behalf of John Lamey, legal action is being taken against the county, the board of commissioners, the township, current Commissioner Vinny Clausi, previous commissioners Frank Sawicki and Merle Phillips, former Chief Clerk Kymberley Best, former county public safety director Paul Froutz, former 911 dispatcher Jason Lehman and former county addressing and Geographic Information System (GIS) coordinator Eric Wendt.
Clausi and Wendt, who is currently the county assistant director of information services, are the only individuals named in the suit still with the county.
Lamey is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees for negligence for violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty or property without certain steps being taken to ensure fairness and requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.
As a result of Marie Lamey's death, Lamey has incurred medical, funeral, burial and related expenses. Lamey's sons, Ian and Patrick, are also named as persons entitled to recover damages.
Marsar said Tuesday he and his client are seeking in excess of $150,000, but it will be determined by a jury the amount the family should be compensated for "pain and suffering and the loss of a mother and wife."
In the complaint, Lamey, of 729 Elysburg Road, Catawissa, said 911 was called when his 50-year-old wife lost consciousness Feb. 14, 2011. The call was routed to Montour County 911, despite Lamey's home being in Northumberland County, and an ambulance from Danville EMS in Montour County was dispatched.
The Danville EMS is located approximately eight miles from the home while the Elysburg Fire Department EMS is located 1.6 miles from their home. The Elysburg EMS was not dispatched until 1:30 a.m., arriving four minutes later at 1:34 a.m. The times for Danville EMS dispatch are not detailed in the suit.
Fourteen minutes after the call, the Danville ambulance paramedics and EMTs arrived and administered CPR and cardiac medications to Marie Lamey and placed in her an endotracheal tube. She was then placed on the EMS's ventilation machine and transported to Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.
"Unfortunately, due to the delay in instituting emergency care at the scene, Mrs. Lamey passed away," Feb. 22, 2011, due to respiratory failure, anoxic brain injury and cardiac arrest, the complaint states.
In years prior to the emergency call, John Lamey argues that Froutz had submitted multiple requests in writing to the county commissioners for a new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system for the Northumberland County 911 Center directly or through Best in her position as chief clerk.
According to the complaint, the CAD system experienced several technical issues after its inauguration and discrepancies that existed between the parcel numbers in each township within the county and the mailing addresses of the individual houses or buildings were resulting in dispatchers receiving 911 calls with an incorrect address for that caller.
The dispatchers were not trained on how to handle these discrepancies, John Lamey claims.
Requests were made by the county to the townships to modify their residential addresses so the 911 software would be able to identify the location of the 911 callers, and Rush Township failed to comply with this request, he said.
Members of the Elysburg Fire Company expressed concern regarding these technical difficulties and their potential danger at a county meeting on March 15, 2011, he said.
At that meeting, Elysburg Assistant Fire Chief Robert Dluge acknowledged that many jurisdictions within the county were experiencing problems with the 911 system, and also acknowledged that the technical issues with the 911 system resulted in Marie Lamey's death, John Lamey said.
Froutz ensured the attendants of the meeting that the commissioners had committed to moving forward with making improvements and recommended they adopt a countywide ordinance mandating all municipalities compile proper addresses that would result in more efficient responses to 911 calls, the complaint states.
The court documents state that "a direct and proximate result of the defendants' negligence, gross negligence, reckless disregard for her welfare and deliberate indifference to Mrs. Lamey's serious medical needs" resulted in her death, John Lamey's "physical and mental pain and suffering, great inconvenience in carrying out his daily activities and a loss of life's pleasures and enjoyment," financial liability for medical expenses and a loss of earnings and earning power.
When contacted Friday, Clausi said nothing had been served to him or the county and he reserved comment until that happens.
Chief Clerk Gary Steffen said Monday the county had not been served.
Marsar said defendants in a federal suit have 120 days to be legally informed of the suit.