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.

Photo Kyle Lovern/WDN
A firefighter works at the scene of the ambulance crash Saturday. 
Photo Kyle Lovern/WDN A firefighter works at the scene of the ambulance crash Saturday. 

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 

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