The chief of the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department suspended four volunteers yesterday after the death early Sunday of an 18-year-old probationary member, who officials said choked on her own vomit after drinking a large amount of alcohol.
Chief Aubrey Schultz said he took the action after one of the volunteers changed his story and acknowledged that the whiskey had been purchased by a volunteer firefighter and not by the victim, as previously asserted.
Schultz said the volunteers told him shortly after the death of Pamela Diane Bellani of Morningside that she had gotten a bottle of liquor from her car at the fire station Saturday night before riding in another car to a nearby house to play pool.
Schultz said that according to the volunteers, Bellani -- a senior at Central High School in Capitol Heights -- then drank an entire fifth of whiskey in a short period of time.
However, Bellani's parents and friends said Sunday that the young woman seldom drank and that they found it hard to believe that she had consumed a fifth of liquor.
The fire company's board of directors voted at a special meeting last night to endorse the suspensions pending the "final results" of investigations by fire and police officials.
"The fire department joins the family in its bereavement in the loss of a promising young member," the board said in a statement read by its president, Francis (Skip) Ward.
Schultz said he ordered the suspensions after he learned yesterday that one of the four volunteers had given a "very conflicting" statement to a county fire department investigator. "As of this moment, without talking to the four, I have put them on suspension," Schultz said.
Schultz said he interviewed three of the volunteers for about 30 minutes early Sunday. "I was told that [Bellani] took [the whiskey] from her car and rode with the others to the house," he said. "They indicated they had intentions of sharing it." But Schultz said the volunteers told him that when the group reached the house, Bellani was the only one who was drinking.
One of the four, a "junior associate member" under 18, went home early, while the others drove Bellani back to the firehouse, Schultz said he was told.
He said the volunteers told him that once there, they asked Bellani for her address so they could drive her home. "They said she wouldn't give them her address, that she just wanted to go to sleep," Schultz said.
Schultz said the volunteers told him that because of a regulation forbidding anyone who has been drinking from entering the firehouse, they left Bellani inside her car.
He said that one volunteer who brought her a blanket thought she looked ill and summoned a medic.
Schultz said he was told by the sergeant in charge of the firehouse that Bellani "was still alive when the medic went out, but she had vomit all over herself."
The medic and her partner then took Bellani to Southern Maryland Hospital Center, where she was declared dead on arrival. Her body was taken to the medical examiner's office in Baltimore.
Prince George's County police spokesman Bob Law said yesterday that an investigation by county homicide detectives is continuing.