W.Va. EMT killed in ambulance crash


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W.Va. EMT killed in ambulance crash

Chris Staggs lost control of the ambulance after suffering a seizure and later died at the hospital

By Rachel Dove-Baldwin
Williamson Daily News

WILLIAMSON, W. Va. — For the past 13 years, Chris “Gomer” Staggs, 35, of Laurel Creek, has served the needs of the residents of Mingo County as first a CPR driver and then as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-B), responding to emergency and medical transport calls each and every time the tones were dropped.

Thursday, Nov. 28, his coworkers, area firefighters, first responders, EMS personnel from across the state and members of local and state law enforcement agencies will gather to pay tribute to the life of a man whose journey here on Earth ended much too soon.

At approximately 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, Staggs was reportedly operating a STAT Ambulance in the vicinity of West Fourth Avenue in Williamson when, according to a statement taken from STAT Paramedic L.C. Blankenship who was Staggs’ partner at the time the accident occurred, they were proceeding to turn into the parking area of the Williamson STAT station located at the corner of West Fourth Avenue and Prichard Street when the medic felt the ambulance jerk.

He glanced over at Staggs and realized something was frighteningly wrong when he observed the driver in a seizure-like state. Blankenship attempted to gain control of the emergency vehicle by grabbing the steering wheel and also tried to turn the key to the off position, but was unsuccessful. The ambulance made contact with several structures and fences surrounding homes on East Fourth Avenue before slamming into the porch and entrance of the Beltone Hearing Center.

Members of the Williamson Fire and Police Department were on the scene in a matter of minutes, and found Blankenship attempting to rouse Staggs, who was unresponsive. He remained in that state during the extrication process but later regained consciousness in the emergency room of the Williamson Memorial Hospital.

“The first thing he asked was what had happened and if anyone else was injured,” said STAT Supervisor Joey Carey, a Critical Care Paramedic who also happened to be Staggs’ brother-in-law. “He was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He was upset about the accident, but I told him our main concern was finding out what was going on with him and making sure he was going to be alright.”

After performing a battery of tests that included blood work, x-rays and a CT Scan of Staggs’ head, the emergency room physician remained baffled since the results were all negative. The decision was made at that time to admit the patient for a 24-hour observation period to allow time for further testing to be performed.

“I’ve never known Chris to be sick,” said Carey. “He never complained about anything and took no medications at all. After the accident when they were running the tests, he was hurting - he was hurting bad. When someone experiences a seizure, every muscle in their body tightens up, and that makes you very sore. Added to that were the injuries he sustained in the accident that included lacerations, bruising on a great majority of his body and a large hematoma on his forehead. The doctor wanted to give him pain medication and he refused. That’s just the way he was.

“My sister had left to take their kids back home to Laurel Creek (ages 13 and 11), and Chris’ brother was staying with him until Misty got back,” explained Carey. “All of a sudden, Chris began seizing again and aspirated a large amount of blood, making it impossible for the doctor to intubate him.”

They rushed Staggs into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where an Anesthesiologist and other physicians attempted to intubate in order to put him on life support but were not able to do so. Staggs is said to have went into cardiopulmonary arrest and was pronounced dead after the physicians and nursing staff worked diligently for close to an hour before deceasing their efforts.

The body was transported to the West Virginia State Examiner’s office for an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death. Speculation is that Staggs may have suffered internal injuries during the accident that may have attributed to his death, although that theory has yet to be confirmed.

“We pulled the drive-cam on the ambulance, downloaded the video and watched it several times,” said Carey. “The event played out just as L.C. explained it to us. All we can tell is it appears that Chris suffered a seizure and was unable to control the ambulance. Thankfully, no other vehicles were involved, nor were any pedestrians or occupants of the homes or business that suffered damaged.”

Blankenship received minor injuries during the accident and was treated for abrasions to his forearm and knee and also complained of pain in his back and hips, but returned to work on Monday.

“It’s so hard to wrap my head around the fact that we’ve lost a family member, a friend and a co-worker,” said Carey. “Anyone who had met Gomer, as we all called him, never forgot him. He had such a wonderful personality and if you were in a bad mood, he could have you laughing in a matter of minutes.

“He was a good man and a great father to his two children. My sister and their kids are devastated from the loss. He worked two jobs to provide for his family…he will be sorely missed.”

Kanawha County EMS Chaplains were on location at the Williamson Fire Department on Monday, counseling those who were close to Staggs in this time of bereavement. A full EMS funeral is planned in Staggs’ honor on Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Williamson Field House, with fire departments and emergency services personnel from across the state planning to attend. Visitation will take place at the Fieldhouse on Wednesday between the hours of 1p.m. and 9 p.m.

“We’ve had such an outpouring of support from across the state, with everyone expressing their condolences to the employees of STAT and to our family,” said Carey. “The Chapmanville Fire Department plans to bring their ladder truck over for the funeral and will have Williamson’s there too, making a bridge for the funeral procession to drive under. We’re going to pay respect and honor Chris in the manner that he so richly deserves.”

Staggs did not have a life or burial insurance policy, and several EMS agencies across the county are conducting fundraisers in an attempt to alleviate the financial burden thrust upon his family. TMK Security Services, who Staggs worked for as a security guard, is also assisting with raising funds.

If you would like to donate to the family of Staggs, you are asked to contact either Rebel Carey or Joey Carey at the Williamson office of STAT Ambulance by calling 304-235-4228, and you may also call Melissa Herndon with TMK Securities at 304-475-2688.

“I want to personally thank everyone that has helped. Whether you volunteered to help fix the road leading to the cemetery, dropped food by the home, donated money toward the funeral expense, took time to call and express your sympathy or posted a comment on Facebook, please know that we appreciate everything you have done. This just reconfirms how well liked Chris was and how many lives he has touched,” said Carey. “He lived, breathed and slept EMS. He truly loved what he did. His shoes are ones that won’t be easily filled.”

Republished with permission from Williamson Daily News 

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EMS1.com or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
John Stirewalt John Stirewalt Monday, November 26, 2012 10:52:06 AM Thoughts and prayers to all the family. Assignment complete in quarters!
Brodie Verworn Brodie Verworn Monday, November 26, 2012 11:03:11 AM Thoughts out to this individuals family for their loss. But I have to ask: As providers, how would you feel knowing your partner was discovered to run the risk of sudden seizures or diabetic comas while on duty? Is it time for them to step down and go into another line of work? Would you run with that person? This isn't the first time I have heard of something like this, far from it, but should these individuals go into education/sales/management because of the risk they run to others?
Patricia Shumate Patricia Shumate Monday, November 26, 2012 11:03:38 AM Chris will be sadly missed by our service. He was a awsome paramedic, husband an father to his family. God Speed Chris, heaven was needing another hero in thier midst.
John Stirewalt John Stirewalt Monday, November 26, 2012 11:07:03 AM you cant say that because he may have been healthy his whole life until that moment. My dad had a disease lay dormant in his body from what the dr's say 40 years then an infection in his pick line made it active and 8 months laid him to rest. He was a vol ff truck driver postal worker and farmer. If it is a known med problem whole heartly agree but if unknow no one knows
John Usry John Usry Monday, November 26, 2012 11:26:51 AM John Stirewalt -Brodie's statement was how was you feel knowing your partner was subject to sudden seizures or diabetic comas. That is different from what you said. If you don't know, such as in your father's case, then you're right.
Troy Green Troy Green Monday, November 26, 2012 11:27:55 AM R.I.P.
Brodie Verworn Brodie Verworn Monday, November 26, 2012 11:40:32 AM Yes, something 'acute' doesn't apply. That instance could happen to any of us today or on our next shift. I had an ex-partner that told me of a well liked colleague who was constantly being covered for. EMS was all this guy knew and one day, he started having seizures and it was discovered he was epileptic. On all his shifts forward, they'd have a 3rd or a driver, ensuring he always had someone in the back with him. He ended up having a grand-maal in the back with a patient and his 3rd. He at that point recused himself from duty. There is no easy answer. Making a living in EMS is difficult enough as it is let alone trying to find an education or sales position that would do the same.
Kathy Mc Govern Kathy Mc Govern Monday, November 26, 2012 11:47:57 AM I totally agree with you, our job is so risky as it is then to know that someone put their needs above all else to my detriment. I feel if they are having a problem controlling their medical conditions that can put others at risk they should step down.
Patrick Lynch Patrick Lynch Monday, November 26, 2012 12:24:32 PM I have run with a few individuals who had medical issues, it is what made them want to help others to begin with. I never had a fear that they may be a risk to my safety or others, they all were very well educated about what they were dealing with and kept their issues under control. Overall I believe it made them more able to relate to many of the patients they cared for. I would have no problem doing it again in the future.
Pam N Bob Siloti Pam N Bob Siloti Monday, November 26, 2012 3:43:12 PM if it is more than a 1 time prob... getout...putting people in jeopardy goes against what you say you stand for. One time incidents happen. We all have to make difficult choices in life..and sometimes life helps us make them... knowing you have a condition you can't control that puts others at risk means stepping aside and finding new things in life.
Debbie Gregor Bangert Debbie Gregor Bangert Tuesday, November 27, 2012 6:19:25 PM My prayers go out to his family. He could have suffered a complex partial seizure that would not have shown up on any EEGS or scans unless you were specifically looking for seizure fingerprint on an MRI or PET scan (I know all about this as my mom suffered 7 years of "episodes" before she was finally diagnoses.There's no pattern or warning.
Patty Slocumb Patty Slocumb Tuesday, November 27, 2012 6:20:43 PM My thoughts are with friends and family. Rest in peace brother.
Patty Slocumb Patty Slocumb Tuesday, November 27, 2012 6:28:01 PM Anybody and I mean anybody can have a first time seizure without any significant medical history. Have you never worked on a patient that had a first time seizure? Any of is in the field could have a sudden heart attack with or stress levels and eating habits on the run all the time with no sleep. You absolutely cannot judge this situation like that. His family said he was healthy I believe that. This was just a tragic incident....I feel for his family and friends but especially his partner. I wouldn't want to lose my partner like that.
Robert Gift Robert Gift Tuesday, November 27, 2012 7:07:45 PM So.rry that he died. This collision does not appear to be of such impact to cause fatal injuries. Were seat-belts in use? What a shock to the medical personnel, his talking to them and then dying from a seizure. Suspect a brain tumor.
Tammy Musgrove Tammy Musgrove Tuesday, November 27, 2012 7:26:04 PM I'm assumming he had no known condition that put put both himself and his partner and patient at risk. Otherwise, you don't get "hero" points for rolling the dice with other people's lives.
Gerty McKenzie Gerty McKenzie Tuesday, November 27, 2012 7:34:10 PM My heart breaks for this family. This brings back so many memories. I lost my paramedic nephew Andy Stapleton 32 yrs. old , almost 3 yrs. ago. RIP Chris & praying for your family and friends to have peace and comfort. God Bless...
Randy Bruns Randy Bruns Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:05:21 PM Thoughts and prayers to all concerned. A main reason I retired after 32 years as an EMT-Paramedic when I became insulin-dependent and did not want to chance a hypoglycemic episode while working a busy shift. It appears he did not have a previous medical history of seizures.
Randy Bruns Randy Bruns Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:09:09 PM Quite honestly, I hope you mean "Insulin Shock/Hypoglycemia" and not "Diabetic Coma". Those two conditions are very different, diabetic coma does not come on suddenly like a seizure.
Fountain Warren Rdc Fountain Warren Rdc Tuesday, November 27, 2012 9:15:07 PM Thank you for your service. RIP.
Donna Graham Hammond Donna Graham Hammond Tuesday, November 27, 2012 9:45:51 PM Prayers to family and friends.RIP brother, your tour is done.
Stephanie Boadilla Stephanie Boadilla Wednesday, November 28, 2012 12:48:30 AM My thoughts with the family and friends sad to see a brother fall on the field R.I.P.
Peter J. Ortiz Peter J. Ortiz Wednesday, November 28, 2012 10:42:54 AM Our Hearts & Prayers Go Out to This Fellow Brother and Colleague.....Rest In Peace Chis and know Jesus is welcoming you home in His Open Arms.
Debi Whitt Buchanan Debi Whitt Buchanan Thursday, November 29, 2012 11:32:16 AM Prayers for the friends and family of another brother lost. Goe Bless you all.
Melisa S-j Melisa S-j Saturday, December 01, 2012 4:19:55 PM May he find his peace. Thank you for your service.
Leslie Gilliland Leslie Gilliland Monday, December 03, 2012 6:41:09 AM Prayers to the family, coworkers and friends. Thank you Chris “Gomer” Staggs for your service, now go rest in peace.