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Family of Ohio homeless man sues medics, FD, city

The medical director for the Middletown Division of Fire stated the paramedics “breached the standard of care and the breach caused” the death

By Rick McCrabb

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Nearly two years after a homeless man was transported from a warming center to a hospital by the Middletown Division of Fire and pronounced dead upon arrival, his family has sued the fire department, the city and the two paramedics who were in the ambulance.

The 50-page lawsuit was filed Jan. 18 in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

The incident began on March 7, 2022, when William “Billy” Jefferys, 47, who was staying in an emergency warming center funded by the city of Middletown, was suffering from an apparent drug overdose after showing “seizure-like” symptoms in a bathroom stall.

The warming center, since it didn’t have fire alarms, was staffed that day by Brent Hughes, a firefighter/paramedic who called for assistance. Middletown paramedics Brian Mariano and Kyle Baughman arrived but failed to perform life-saving measures on Jefferys, according to the lawsuit reviewed by the Journal-News.

At the warming center, after other fire personnel had left, Baughman asked Mariano whether he wanted to perform any other care or assessments on Jefferys, including attaching an EKG to monitor his heart or starting an IV for the administration of fluids or medications.

Mariano told Baughman he did not want to take any further action and told him to drive to Atrium Medical Center, according to the lawsuit.

Jefferys was transported at 2:40 a.m. from the warming center, 1009 Grove St., to Atrium, a nine-minute ride, according to the lawsuit. He was pronounced dead at 3:14 a.m. at the hospital.

He died of a massive methamphetamine overdose, according to Warren County Coroner Dr. Russell Uptegrove, and his death was ruled an accident.

The lawsuit asks for at least $25,000 in punitive damages in an amount necessary to punish defendants in their individual capacities and deter them from engaging in similar future conduct. Deborah Shepherd, whose relation to Jefferys is unknown, is listed as the administrator.

City Manager Paul Lolli, fire chief at the time of the incident, said the city became aware of a situation regarding the medical transport of an individual that involved one of the city’s paramedics.

He said the city immediately placed the paramedic on leave and referred the matter to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for further investigation.

After an investigation lasting several months, it was decided by independent prosecutors that no criminal charges would be brought, Lolli told the Journal-News.

As is its practice, the city does not comment on pending litigation, Lolli said.

The Jefferys family, through Cincinnati attorneys Santen & Hughes, issued this statement: “Our hearts are broken over the terrible conduct displayed by the city of Middletown Division of Fire and its employees. We feel that the facts surrounding Billy’s death were hidden from us. Through our lawsuit, we hope to find accountability for Billy’s death with the hope that nothing like this ever happens again in our community.

“We also hope to bring greater awareness to the many homeless individuals in our communities. Like Billy, the circumstances of their homelessness, however brief or extended, are complex in nature. Nevertheless, they are human beings and deserve to be treated as such. We believe, unfortunately, that the city of Middletown Division of Fire and its employees lost sight of the dignity and sanctity of human life. The death of a person under your care should never be a laughing matter.”

In the lawsuit, Dr. Donald A. Locasto, who serves as the medical director for multiple fire and rescue departments, said he reviewed the medical records of Jefferys.

He wrote that “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty,” Mariano and Baughman “breached the standard of care and the breach caused” the death of Jefferys.

The lawsuit alleges emergency medical liability “for willful and wanton conduct, wrongful death, spoliation of evidence, and falsification of medical records and fraud” while Jefferys was in the care of Mariano and Baughman.

Mariano and Baughman “provided no intervention whatsoever to prevent Billy Jefferys from succumbing to a toxic drug overdose,” the lawsuit read. “Instead, they allowed nature to take its course. When Mariano and Baughman discovered that Jefferys had died, they laughed. They then attempted to hand Billy Jefferys’ corpse over to the nurses at Atrium Medical Center, acting as if he was alive.”

Nurses at Atrium said the two paramedics “leisurely” walked Jefferys down the hall of the hospital, showing “no signs of urgency,” the lawsuit read. The paramedics also did not have an IV line started, had not called the emergency room prior to arrival to alert them via the rescue squad phone and barely had any vitals for Jefferys.

Another nurse said “It was pretty evident that something was wrong with him ... It didn’t look like he was breathing, didn’t look like he was alive.”

She confirmed that he did not have a pulse and she immediately began CPR compressions.

Mariano quit the fire department in November 2022, and Baughman remains employed by the city.

Mariano was previously known as Brian Smith, the lawsuit said. He was charged for reckless driving in 2017, according to a Lebanon court case. He then legally changed his name in Butler County Probate Court from Smith to Mariano.

He failed to report his conviction to the State Board of Emergency Medical, Fire and Transportation Services as required by law.

Mariano was put on leave on March 11, 2022, amid the investigation. He quit after being on paid leave for eight months when he was told to resign or be fired, according to documents.

In January 2020, when Serving the Homeless with Alternate Housing of Middletown (SHALOM), a church-based homeless shelter, didn’t open for the second year due to COVID-19 concerns, the city of Middletown funded an emergency warming center.

The warming center was supposed to remain open through the end of April 2020, according to a contract that was approved by Middletown City Council in January 2020. Council approved spending no more than $95,000 to operate the center for three months, but the center closed early.

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