Authorities suspended four rescue squad members in an investigation into why a severely injured woman was incorrectly presumed dead and left for 45 minutes in a wrecked car, city officials said today.
"I've never witnessed anything like that in 25 years," said Acting Battalion Chief N.J. Hall.
The woman had even been covered with a sheet and a hearse had been summoned.
A preliminary investigation into the incident was close to completion, said Roger Barbee, president of Commonwealth Rescue Service, which serves Richmond.
He would not name the four workers suspended from duty without pay, but said they were experienced in rescue procedures.
"It's not a question of experience, but of excitement," he said.
Rescuers left Brenda Louise Johnson, 32, of Richmond, trapped for almost 45 minutes in her car Sunday after they apparently mistook her for dead, officials said.
It was only after the woman's head moved that a firefighter at the scene realized she was alive.
"The only thing I remember was I came around the side of the car and somebody said 'Dead. She's DOA,' " said Roy Silva, an emergency medical technician with Commonwealth.
"My primary concern is who made that statement," said Barbee separately.
Johnson was listed in critical but stable condition at the Medical College of Virginia with severe head injuries.
She was the driver of a car that crashed into the side of a building in the city's Fan District about 2:10 a.m. Sunday, injuring three of her passengers.
Assistant Fire Chief Bland Shaughnessy said he would receive a written report but did not believe any fire personnel responding to the scene of the wreck were at fault.
"Some ambulance personnel said the driver was dead," Shaughnessy said. "I don't know who or why."
Shaughnessy said that although Johnson remained trapped in the car for 45 minutes, he did not believe much time was wasted because rescue workers were treating other victims and it took time for firefighters to remove the bricks and other wreckage that trapped her.
Silva, who was with the second ambulance crew, said he did not remember who told him the woman was dead.
Barbee said the four workers suspended were in the two Commonwealth ambulances that responded to the accident.
"That's normal procedure for this sort of thing," Barbee said of the suspension. "We really just don't know anything yet.
"I'd like to get this resolved as quickly as possible, but we have to get hold of the police officers who were on the scene, the fire department personnel on the scene and that takes a while."
One of the passengers in the car, Iris Ray, 25, of Richmond, was hospitalized in satisfactory condition today with multiple injuries.
Two other passengers, Wilbert Bouldin, 25, of Richmond, and Kevin Mondrey, 21, were treated and released from local hospitals.
Police reported that the car went out of control, ran over a curb and crashed into a building.