Ambulance altercation prompts policy review
Jun 20, 2012 (Lewiston Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Clarkston Fire Chief Steve Cooper is reviewing his department's transportation policies after two firefighters were involved in an altercation with a mentally ill patient over the weekend.
A report by the Whitman County Sheriff's Office indicates the firefighters were taking the patient by ambulance from Tri-State Memorial Hospital to the Eastern State Hospital psychiatric facility in Medical Lake early Sunday morning when he became agitated, bit the driver and escaped.
Jason Hundrup, 41, was later arraigned in Whitman County Superior Court on charges of third-degree assault, resisting arrest and two counts of malicious mischief. He was then taken to Eastern State Hospital.
The sheriff's report indicates Hundrup was on a gurney in the back of the ambulance, secured by a couple of belts. Shortly after the ambulance passed Colfax, he unhooked the belts and sat up.
After talking to himself for a while, he lay back down, then got up and crawled into the front passenger seat. He crawled back and forth a couple of times, then said he wanted to drive.
When the driver's phone rang, the report said, "Jason went off." He allegedly grabbed the driver, bit him on the finger and ripped a radio out of the dashboard. After the ambulance stopped, the report said, the second firefighter got out of the back, ran around to the front door and pulled Hundrup out of the vehicle, then got in and locked the doors.
Hundrup ran to a nearby house and, according to the sheriff's report, threw a rock through a window. Then he hid in a nearby creek.
Colfax police and a Spokane County sheriff's helicopter with infrared equipment was called in to help locate him. He was eventually tracked down by three sheriff's deputies, who shot him with a Taser and "dry stunned him several times" when he refused to follow commands and became violent.
Cooper said his department "didn't receive any information that would lead us to believe the patient would react like that. We treated him like any other patient, securing him to the bed with seat belts. When we picked him up at Tri-State, he wasn't restrained, he was cooperative -- he even slept for the first part of the trip."
Since the incident, Cooper said, he's been on the phone with other agencies to see what their procedures are for transporting patients. Some of the policies he's reviewed so far wouldn't necessarily have prevented Sunday's altercation, as they indicate physical restraints should only be used as a last resort.
"I don't believe it's appropriate to restrain every patient we see," Cooper said. "We have to be sure to protect the safety and rights of patients -- but we also need to protect the safety of my responders. That's the balance I'm looking for."
Spence may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 791-9168.
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