4 Mich. EMS providers on leave after woman mistakenly declared dead
Southfield Fire Chief Johnny Menifee said Wednesday the four providers “feel terrible” and disputed claims that first responders placed the woman in a body bag
James David Dickson
The Detroit News
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — The Southfield fire chief is pledging to find answers after a 20-year-old woman was declared dead on Sunday but then was found alive hours later at a Detroit funeral home.
At a Wednesday morning press conference at Southfield City Hall, Chief Johnny Menifee addressed Timesha Beauchamp and her family: “We know that they want answers. We’re trying to provide those answers, but it takes time; it’s going to take time for this investigation.”
There is public interest in the case and that’s important, too, he said, but getting answers for the family trumps that concern.
He said the four medics involved in the call were put on leave Monday morning.
“They feel terrible,” Menifee said. “They can’t imagine how this possibly could happen. They’re emotionally upset.”
The four staffers are a lieutenant-paramedic with 18 years of experience, a paramedic with seven years’ experience, and two EMTs, with two years and six months of experience, Menifee said.
On Tuesday, attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who is representing Beauchamp, 20, and her family said his firm will investigate any negligence on the part of authorities dispatched to her home.
“She needed to be taken to a hospital, not a funeral home,” the Southfield-based attorney said.
The Southfield Fire Department responded to a 911 call at about 7:35 a.m. Sunday for an unresponsive woman, authorities said.
The woman suffered what was “apparently a seizure” during her normal morning routine, Fieger said. She was not breathing and her lips had lost color, he said.
Beauchamp has had cerebral palsy from birth and is on three breathing treatments a day, Fieger said.
Medics tried “life-saving efforts” on the woman for about half an hour, Southfield Fire Chief Johnny Menifee said. He declined Wednesday to detail what those were. But the woman showed “no signs of life.”
Fieger said a godmother of the woman, who works in the medical field, was at the house at the time and told authorities that Beauchamp was not dead. But they allegedly argued that the movements were involuntary, a reaction to the life-saving efforts just applied, the attorney added.
After the fire department consulted with an emergency room doctor at Providence Hospital, who declared the woman dead, the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office signed off on releasing the woman’s body to the family.
The woman was placed in a body bag at about 9 a.m., Fieger said. The James H. Cole Home for Funerals in Detroit on Schaefer took custody of the woman’s body just before 11:30 a.m.
On Wednesday, Menifee said that Fieger made a “grossly inaccurate” statement in saying Beauchamp was placed in a body bag by police or firefighters.
“That is absolutely untrue,” Menifee said. “It is not part of our standard operating procedures, nor do we carry that equipment.”
Funeral home workers preparing to embalm Beauchamp realized the woman was not dead. The workers were preparing to embalm Beauchamp.
“She was alive, her eyes were open, and she was breathing,” Fieger said.
The funeral home workers called 911, and Detroit Fire Department medics arrived. The woman was breathing. Her heart was beating at a rate of 80 beats per minute.
Beauchamp remains hospitalized in critical condition, said Brian Taylor, a spokesman for the Detroit Medical Center.
Menifee said he has not reached out to the family, and that he felt bad about it. He said he believes what the family wants from him is answers, not just conversation.
“I take full responsibility for not reaching out to them,” Menifee said. “I feel tremendously upset and mad at myself for not doing that upfront, but I know they want answers and I’m trying to get those answers for them.”
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