Should Ambulance Crew Have Followed Speeding DWI Suspect?

Two EMS workers are facing disciplinary action for pursuing a suspected drunk driver from Johnston into Harnett County while on an ambulance, temporarily leaving the 50-210 community without emergency medical coverage. 

The incident happened just before 1:00am Wednesday morning.  50-210 EMS Chief Ricky Denning tells WTSB News the two EMS workers with his agency were returning from a call when they spotted a vehicle stopped beside the roadway at the intersection of Highway 50 and Highway 210.    

According to a copy of a Johnston County 911 recording obtained by WTSB, the paramedic on the recording said she looked at the driver and she “wouldn’t make eye contact.” Then she “spun off” and was “swerving all over the road.”

Speeds Reach 100MPH
The ambulance crew followed the driver down Highway 210 into Harnett County and into the Angier city limits. At one point speeds on the fleeing vehicle were estimated at 80 mph and then later at 100 mph by the paramedic, according to radio communications.

50-210-EMS-FIThe suspected drunk driver pulled into McDonald’s in Angier and the paramedics stayed with her. One of the paramedics talked to the woman.  “My partner is talking with her. She’s acting like she has no clue what was going on,” the paramedic said.

The paramedics stayed with the suspect until law enforcement arrived. Angier Police were tied up, so a Harnett County deputy responded instead.

“I do think they were probably trying to do what was best for the individual. Naturally we are not law enforcement personnel. We don’t pursue individuals,” Denning said.

The incident raises concerns about potential liability if the speeding driver or ambulance crew may have wrecked into another vehicle.  It also raises concerns about a paramedic approaching stopped vehicles.  Chief Denning agreed saying, “We are not law enforcement.”     

Crew Made “Bad Decision”
After meeting with the two EMS workers Chief Denning told WTSB, “They made some mistakes obviously. They had very good intentions. Their intentions were good but we just can’t do stuff like that. They understand that now. Both are great employees and one is a volunteer. They have never been in any trouble to this point.”

“It was a bad decision to follow,” Chief Denning told WTSB. “We don’t take the units out of the service area.”

Johnston County Emergency Services Director Kim Robertson said she spoke with Chief Denning about the incident on Friday.  ” I was concerned that an EMS unit left its assigned geographical area. Chief Denning has reviewed this matter with his team and it is being appropriately addressed.”

Denning said the two ambulance workers are facing disciplinary action but declined to say what type of punishment citing personnel laws. Both are still with the department.

“They thought they were doing the right thing but it really wasn’t the decision they needed to make,” Chief Denning said. “They need to report it to law enforcement and let them handle it. They know what to do in the future.”

While the ambulance crew radioed they vehicle they were following was traveling at speeds between 80 and 100mph down NC210, Chief Denning said the ambulance never reached speeds over 62mph.

The ambulance is equipped with a device to monitor speeds but according to Johnston County 911 Director Jason Barbour the device was not activated at the time of the Nov. 18th incident. Barbour could not say why the device was not activated.