Woman's lawsuit claims brother was not properly treated after heart attack

Sherry Groover's lawyer said the "defendants failed to take action" when Groover's brother suffered a fatal heart attack in 2014


By John Chambliss
The Ledger

BARTOW, Fla. — The sister of a man who died of a heart attack in 2014 in Winter Haven has filed a lawsuit against Polk County and the city of Winter Haven, questioning a lack of treatment by medics for the 58-year-old.

"Defendants failed to take action to save the Decedent's life," wrote Marie Mattox, a lawyer for Sherry "Cookie" Groover, the sister of John Hamilton. "They failed to follow protocol and/or the appropriate standard of care by, for example, failing to intubate Decedent after arriving on the scene, failing to perform CPR, and failing to inject the Decedent to take other appropriate measures to save the Decedent's life."

Hamilton's autopsy concluded he died of heart disease at his mother's home at 595 Lake Martha Drive, N.E.

The lawsuit claims that county firefighters Timothy Christensen and Emery Roberts, and Winter Haven firefighters Cory Hart, Justin Riner and Jason Montgomery, could have possibly saved Hamilton.

Hart and Montgomery were off work Monday and could not be reached. Riner, a lieutenant with the Winter Haven Fire Department, did not return a phone message. Deputy County Manager Joe Halman said the county employees would not comment on pending litigation.

Roberts, a paramedic, could have been terminated after an internal investigation, but he resigned from Polk County Fire Rescue in December 2014. He died of a heart attack in July 2016.

Roberts pronounced Hamilton dead at 5:36 a.m. May 3, 2014, with reported signs of lividity and rigor mortis. But Hamilton was heard on a 911 call about 5:25 a.m.

Rigor mortis takes at least an hour after death to set in.

Mattox filed the lawsuit earlier this month. She's the Tallahassee lawyer who represented the county's former medical director who claimed she was fired for reporting violations in the hiring of a firefighter she asserted was unqualified to work because of his fitness. A U.S. District Judge dismissed that lawsuit, but Nancy King has now filed a similar lawsuit in the 10th Judicial Circuit. The county has moved to dismiss that lawsuit.

Mattox did not return a phone message. Groover declined to comment.

Mattox filed two counts of wrongful death, two counts of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, common law civil conspiracy, conspiracy to violate constitutional rights and negligence.

At issue is the lack of care and inconsistent testimony by the firefighters.

According to the lawsuit, a medical supervisor from another county reviewed the case.

"After a careful review of the EMS run report, I found several issues that questioned the paramedic's treatment," the supervisor wrote. "According to the agencies' provided protocols, I believe the paramedic did not follow the appropriate protocol," and "the patient should have been treated in accordance with the Pulseless Electrical Activity Protocol."

The lawsuit alleges there was an attempted cover-up when officials claimed an electrocardiogram test on Hamilton was performed. But the lawsuit states there wasn't any evidence of the test.

"Defendants provided EKG strips that they claimed were related to one or more EKGs performed on Plaintiff," the lawsuit states. "But these strips do not contain Decedent's name and obviously were not related to any EKG performed on Decedent."

In addition, the lawsuit said, officials with the county didn't fully investigate the death. An investigator failed to speak with Stephen Nelson, the District 10 Medical Examiner, about his findings. In a story about the case in 2016, Nelson told The Ledger that lividity and rigor mortis took hours to set in.

Hamilton cared for his mother, Lois Fulkerson, at her home.

He started complaining to his mom two or three days before he died, saying he felt ill and had heart burn. He resisted going to a doctor.

Fulkerson told The Ledger that Hamilton went to bed about midnight, but woke his mother up when he started yelling from upstairs to call 911.

Her call was received about 5:23 a.m. She's heard asking Hamilton to take aspirin. A voice labeled "unknown speaker" responds, "already did," according to the transcribed 911 call in the investigative report.

Minutes later, emergency officials arrived at the home.

"There was no attempt to revive Decedent by Defendants and Defendants declared him dead at the scene at 5:36 a.m.," the lawsuit states.

Copyright 2018 The Ledger

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