Ambulance procession pays tribute to EMT killed in crash
The string of nearly 30 vehicles lined up to honor 24-year-old EMT Marina DeSteno Challeen
By Paul Walsh
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — A long procession of ambulances Wednesday escorted from the medical examiner's office in downtown Minneapolis the body of Marina G. DeSteno Challeen, an emergency medical technician who was killed while on duty Monday in a crash in Brooklyn Center.
"Processional for fallen HealthEast EMS provider Marina Challeen," read a Facebook posting by Hennepin County's emergency medical service. "Thank you for your service, Marina, we will take it from here."
The string of nearly 30 vehicles, most of them HealthEast ambulances, left downtown with lights flashing as ambulances from other health care providers lined the curb. Some emergency personnel standing nearby held a salute throughout the midday tribute under gray skies as DeSteno was on her way to a funeral home in St. Paul. Her family was making funeral arrangements in anticipation of 1,500 in attendance.
DeSteno Challeen, 24, of St. Paul, was a passenger in the eastbound ambulance when it crashed into a stalled semitrailer truck that was "fully on the shoulder" about 7 p.m. Monday. A tow truck was with the big rig in the apex where Interstate 694 and I-94 split, State Patrol Lt. Tiffani Nielson said.
DeSteno Challeen, of St. Paul, died at the scene. Colleague Susanna G. Kelly, 27, of Roseville, was driving the ambulance, and she was taken to North Memorial Medical Center. The patrol said that Kelly survived her injuries. The ambulance did not have a patient on board.
HealthEast spokeswoman Erika Taibl declined to reveal details about Kelly's driving history but did say Tuesday night that the transport service conducts prehiring background checks and complies with state requirements in hiring anyone who drives an ambulance.
Processional for fallen HealthEast EMS provider Marina Challeen. Thank you for your service Marina, we will take it from here.Posted by Hennepin EMS on Wednesday, October 11, 2017
State law says drivers must have a standard driver's license and complete an emergency vehicle driving course. Taibl added that "there is also ongoing training each year" for drivers.
Taibl and another HealthEast spokeswoman have yet to answer questions Tuesday about the crash or what they know about Kelly's driving history. Instead, they issued a statement: "We lost a valued member of our ... medical transportation team. As we work with law enforcement to understand what happened, we ask for thoughts and prayers for our colleague, grieving family and friends and our team."
Kelly has been with HealthEast since September 2016, and she received her emergency medical technician certification while living in Colorado, according to her professional online profile on LinkedIn.
The website for the board that regulates emergency medical services in Minnesota shows no disciplinary action against Kelly. A message was left with Kelly through her family seeking further information about the crash.
DeSteno Challeen had been an EMT for about a year, all with HealthEast, said her aunt Nancy DeSteno.
"We knew that she went to Monticello [Monday] night," the aunt said. "And we saw the news reports and tried to piece things together. The timing was about right. We were hoping it was not her."
DeSteno said her niece earned a degree in anthropology from the University of Minnesota and "wanted to go to medical school but took EMT training instead. ... Her plan was to be a doctor and join Doctors Without Borders."
The semi's driver, 44-year-old Paulette A. Mejia, of Temple, Ga., was not injured, the patrol added. The tow truck driver also escaped injury.
Sara DuPaul of the State Patrol said the ambulance was heading from Monticello to north Minneapolis without its emergency lights or siren engaged when it "attempted to merge across the apex and subsequently struck the back of the semi, and major impact happened on the front passenger side."
The semi had been sitting there for 15 to 16 minutes because of "mechanical issues," DuPaul added.
Lieutenant Nielson said "our investigators are looking at [the] question" of why the ambulance strayed into the apex. No citations have been issued in connection with the crash, Nielson added.
She said both drivers were not under the influence of alcohol at the time, and both had on their seat belts.
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