Officials: Driver in fatal ambulance crash fell asleep

Cody Bryans, 21, was behind the wheel when the ambulance struck a tree

By Stephen Williams
The Daily Gazette

DUANESBURG, N.Y. — The May 24 ambulance crash on Western Turnpike that killed a patient who was being transported home from the hospital occurred because the driver fell asleep, Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said late Friday.

Mohawk Ambulance driver Cody Bryans, 21, was behind the wheel when the crash happened, Dagostino said. Bryans and an emergency medical technician were taking cancer patient Chris J. Aernecke, 64, of Sloansville, home from treatment at Albany Medical Center.

An autopsy determined Aernecke died from massive trauma.

"Further investigation has determined that the crash occurred as the result of the driver falling asleep during operation of the ambulance," Dagostino said in a prepared statement. "While the investigation is ongoing, vehicle speed and use of cellphone and texting by the driver have been ruled out for any causative factors at this time."

The crash occurred on Route 20 in Duanesburg, which is also known as Western Turnpike, at 5:04 p.m. that Wednesday. The Mohawk Ambulance left the road and struck a tree.

While releasing the cause of the crash, Dagostino said the investigation remains open. No tickets have been issued or charges filed. The sheriff said the results of toxicology tests on the driver are pending. He noted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also involved in the investigation.

The NHTSA found in a 2014 study that, nationally, there were 4,500 crashes involving ambulances between 1992 and 2011, and fewer than one percent resulted in fatalities. Annually, 33 people die in ambulance accidents, according to the report. Only about one-fifth of the time is it the patient being transported who dies; most often, it is someone in another vehicle.

In a prepared statement, Mohawk Ambulance said Byrans was eight hours into a 12-hour shift at the time of the accident, following 14 hours off. The private ambulance firm said 12-hour shifts are the standard in the ambulance industry nationally, and the two crew members were on their fifth call of the day.

"This is a terrible and unfortunate accident, and we can't express enough how deeply saddened we are. We continue to pray for the family of Mr. Aernecke and offer our sincerest condolences in their time of grief," Mohawk Ambulance President James P. McPartlon said in the prepared statement.

The company said that, in more than 50 years of serving the Capital Region, this was the only crash that has lead to a patient's death.

Dagostino said the company has cooperated fully throughout the investigation.

EMT Alyssa Bevilaqua-Shufelt, 20, was injured in the crash and was taken to Albany Medical Center for treatment. Bryans, whom the sheriff said was able to free himself, open the ambulance's rear door and assisted Aernecke and Bevilaqua-Shufelt. He was also taken to Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, but was later released.

Aernecke, who worked nearly 30 years for the silicon plastics plant in Waterford now owned by Momentive Performance Materials, retired in 2011 for health reasons, according to his obituary. His sister said he had been suffering from cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment for a number of years and was being taken to his Schoharie County home after a week of treatment at Albany Medical Center for fever and an infection.

Aernecke's widow, Linda, didn't respond to a request for comment late Friday afternoon.

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