Third Fla. air ambulance staffer arrested in stolen medication case
Harold Jaesson Perez is the second Monroe County Fire Rescue Trauma Star program paramedic to be arrested
By David Goodhue
MONROE COUNTY, Fla. — A third Florida Keys’ helicopter air ambulance program crew member has been arrested as part of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office’s ongoing investigation into stolen drugs and altered medication inventory logbooks.
Only former chief flight nurse Lynda Rusinowski has been charged with stealing meds so far, but two paramedics assigned to the Trauma Star program have now been arrested on felony charges of evidence destroying and obstruction of justice.
Detectives on Saturday arrested Harold Jaesson Perez, 34, weeks after they arrested 44-year-old Damian Roberto Suarez.
Specific information about the accusations against Perez were not immediately available. As of Saturday afternoon, he remained in county jail with no bond information or information about legal representation immediately available.
Perez was hired by Monroe County Fire Rescue in November 2014, and his annual salary is $74,463, Kristen Livengood, county spokeswoman, said.
Suarez is accused of denying to police that he suspected Rusinowski of stealing the drugs from the beginning and then deleting text messages on his phone from a group chat among colleagues, including Perez, in which the men discussed Rusinowski taking the medications.
One of Suarez’s superiors told police he informed him in July that he thought Rusinowski was stealing drugs, according to detectives’ probable cause affidavit. Suarez also was the first to notice that logs inventorying Trauma Star’s medications, which are kept in the hangar that houses the program’s three helicopters, were altered, investigators say.
But, when detectives interviewed Suarez in late July about his knowledge of the accusations against Rusinowski, he “said he had no idea about Rusinowski stealing controlled substances and was totally surprised by the recent information,” Detective Michael Onsgard wrote in the affidavit.
These claims were contradicted by statements another colleague on the group chat provided detectives, Onsgard said in his report. Suarez has pleaded not guilty.
“Trauma Star is a vital, life-saving program. We will continue to hold those who obstruct this criminal investigation accountable,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in a statement Saturday.
Suarez’s attorney, Roy Kahn, said his client is innocent of obstruction and evidence tampering because at the time the conversations from his phone were deleted, the sheriff’s office had not yet opened its investigation.
“They weren’t doing anything to interfere with an investigation because there was no investigation yet,” Kahn said.
Trauma Star, which is on call 24-7, routinely saves lives by taking the most seriously injured or sick patients by helicopter to hospitals in Miami-Dade, which have specialized trauma care not available in the remote Keys.
The program began in 2002 with one helicopter. Last year, Trauma Star crews made 1,386 flights and carried 1,458 patients to Miami hospitals, according to the county. The program is on pace to exceed those numbers this year. In 2019, Monroe Fire Rescue added in-flight blood transfusions for critically injured patients.
Rusinowski, 56, was arrested in September and charged with two counts of grand theft of a controlled substance, two counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and two counts of official misconduct. She has also pleaded not guilty.
She’s accused of stealing 16 pre-filled morphine syringes and two doses of a powerful pre-surgery sedative called Versed.
In late July, Monroe County Fire Rescue, which hires nurses and paramedics for Trauma Star, reported that narcotics were missing from the program, which stores drugs and other supplies at the airplane hangar located at the Florida Keys Marathon International Airport. The drug logs also didn’t add up.
On July 25, a fire rescue captain drove Rusinowski, who started working for Trauma Star in 2017, to a drug rehabilitation center in West Palm Beach.
“While in transit, Chief Flight Nurse Rusinowski admitted to stealing the controlled substances for her personal use,” Detective Brandon White wrote in a Sept. 12 probable cause affidavit.