Stabbing survivor sues Mass. city and AMR for 2016 incident

The violent and bizarre incident brought to light the inherent inefficiencies of the city’s antiquated 911 emergency call system


Charles Winokoor
Taunton Daily Gazette, Mass.

TAUNTON, Mass — An East Taunton woman who was stabbed half a dozen times — and whose mother lay dying on the floor next to her for at least 20 minutes before emergency responders realized the two women were in the house — is suing the city and its former ambulance company for negligence.

Friday marks three years to the day that Kathleen Slavin and her 80-year-old mother, Patricia, were both stabbed in Patricia's East Taunton home while the two were having dinner.

A mentally unhinged city man named Arthur "A.J." DaRosa walked into the house at 270 Myricks St. shortly after 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 10, 2016.

DaRosa went straight to the kitchen where he found a steak knife, which he then used to stab the two women in the dining room.

Kathleen, 58, was badly injured but survived. She was taken to Rhode Island Hospital, where she was treated and released three days later.

Her mother was pronounced dead less than an hour and a half later at Taunton's Morton Hospital.

The official cause of death, according to the complaint filed April 22 in Taunton's Bristol County Superior Court, was cardiac arrest.

Kathleen Slavin later stated that after DaRosa left the house, she was on the phone for at least 20 minutes with a 911 dispatcher as she and her mother, who were both bleeding heavily, lay on the floor unable to stand up.

It wasn't until one of Kathleen's four brothers opened the front door, and began shouting to firefighters and an ambulance crew outside responding to a two-vehicle crash, that the women received medical attention and were transported to hospitals.

DaRosa had walked into Patricia Slavin's house that night after he caused a crash on Myricks Street not far from her house that injured a woman driving a pickup truck.

Police say he tried getting into other houses before he found the door at 270 Myricks St. unlocked.

After stabbing the women, DaRosa managed to drive his damaged Honda sedan to the Silver City Galleria mall, where he drove into the side entrance of the former Macy's store.

DaRosa by then had no knife, but he assaulted three women as he ran through the store.

Exiting into a lobby of the Galleria's second floor, DaRosa walked into the former Bertucci's Italian Restaurant, grabbed a knife and began stabbing a pregnant waitress.

George Heath, 56, of Taunton intervened to protect the 26-year-old woman and was fatally stabbed in the head.

An off-duty deputy sheriff then confronted DaRosa, drew his weapon and fatally shot DaRosa when he walked toward him and refused to drop the knife.

The violent and bizarre incident, which attracted national attention, brought to light the inherent inefficiencies of the city's antiquated 911 emergency call system, which is still located on the second floor of the fire department's Central Fire Station on School Street.

The call system has since been overhauled and restructured so that four trained police and fire dispatchers work in the same room as a fire department call-taker.

When callers dialed 911 using the old system they would initially be asked as to the nature of their emergency. Callers now are first asked to identify their location.

During the time of the 2016 stabbing rampage, a firefighter working a 911 dispatch shift would transfer all police-related emergency calls to the police station where an officer in that building would speak to the caller.

The city later hired an Arlington police chief who runs a police consulting firm to assess its 911 communication system.

His report called the system "substandard" and "a clear danger to the citizens of Taunton."

"It is beyond comprehension," he wrote, that the city's police and fire departments had heretofore operated separate yet identical computer-assisted dispatch systems.

Boston-based lawyer Kenneth Kolpan is representing Slavin, both individually and as a representative of the estate of her late mother Patricia.

In a presentment letter to Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr., Kolpan alleges that the city — due to its previous "inadequate, obsolete and substandard 911 emergency call system" — caused "a significant delay in the response time to the scene."

"The Respondent (the city) negligently failed to promptly respond and treat both stabbing victims," the letter states — "(and) the Respondent did not log in the call(s) in real time, but ... waited eight minutes to log the call(s), causing significant and fatal delay in sending first responders to the stabbing victims' home."

The suit also names Colorado-based American Medical Response of Massachusetts as a co-defendant.

The court complaint alleges that after Kathleen Slavin called 911 the on-duty dispatcher notified AMR that there had been stabbings at 270 Myricks St.

But instead of going to that address, the complaint alleges, first responders went to the corner of Birch Street and Claire Terrace half a block away.

Nine minutes after Slavin dialed 911, the complaint states, a fire engine and police car showed up at a house at 280, as opposed to 270, Myricks St.

The complaint also alleges that police were never dispatched to 270 Myricks St., despite "separate notifications from the fire dispatcher and AMR that there was a double stabbing" at the address.

The suit, on behalf of the estate of Patricia Slavin, charges the city with two counts of wrongful death.

It also charges both the city and AMR, on behalf of Kathleen Slavin individually, with negligent infliction of emotional distress — noting that she subsequently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; depression; anxiety; panic disorder; and social anxiety disorder.

The civil suit also charges the city with two counts of depriving Kathleen Slavin of her constitutional right to enjoy life and liberty.

Taunton City Solicitor Jason D. Buffington said he's confident all charges will quickly be dismissed based under the legal doctrine known as "sovereign immunity."

Under that doctrine a state, federal or city government cannot commit a legal wrong, and as such is immune from criminal prosecution or a civil suit.

"Obviously everybody in the city feels awful for what happened to the Slavin family. They're our friends and neighbors, and it was tragic and horrible," Buffington said.

But Buffington said penalizing the city for what happened that night would be unfair to the taxpayers.

Kathleen Slavin, when contacted by phone, declined to discuss the lawsuit. But she did describe how her life has changed since that May night in 2016. She said she continues to suffer certain psychological aftereffects that impinge on her daily routine.

"I jump a lot and scream," she said in a calm voice. "I still get very nervous."

Slavin said she sometimes has trouble walking in busy areas or being in a confined space with other people.

"When I go to the grocery store, sometimes I won't go down the aisle and will leave and come back. I'm scared to death," she said.

Slavin said before the night of the knife attack she was working two part-time jobs. Now she works just one, which she says is for a retail company.

"They've been great to me," she said, in terms of adjusting her hours.

Since the deadly incident, Slavin says her employer has arranged for her to work morning hours in the back room from 6 to 10 a.m. — as opposed to working on the retail floor where she might feel intimidated by other people.

She said she's fortunate her physical wounds have completely healed and that she doesn't have any lingering side effects in that regard.

Slavin credits her four brothers and a sister for their emotional support.

She says she moved back into the house, where she grew up, after buying it from two of her siblings.

"It's a warm and loving house. There's no creepiness," Slavin said.

"I miss my mom every single day," she said. "But I'm blessed, in a way, that I'm strong."

"I'm not gonna let this cripple me," Slavin added. "I'm just going to move on and put one foot in front of the other."

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©2019 Taunton Daily Gazette, Mass.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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