Criminal probe closed, lawsuit ongoing against SC EMS, police in death of mentally ill man

First responders were accused of negligence after Paul Tarashuk was left at a gas station by a deputy and then struck by a car in 2018


Four hours after an EMS crew released Paul Tarashuk, he was struck and killed by a vehicle. EMS attorney David Givot, The Legal Guardian, further breaks down issues of patient abandonment, negligence and responsibility in his analysis: Caught on video: Are they liable for their ‘patient’s’ death?

Gene Zaleski
The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.

ORANGEBURG COUNTY, S.C. — It has been over two years since Cindy Tarashuk learned her mentally ill son, Paul, died after being hit by a vehicle on Interstate 95.

"The most challenging part over the past two years has been getting through each day and dealing with the reality of Paul not being here," she said. "Time does not make it easier. Nothing will ever be the same without Paulie. We as a family will never be the same."

Several calls came into the Orangeburg County 911 dispatch center on Sept. 9, 2018 about a man running naked on I-95. One caller said he had to swerve to avoid hitting the man.

Four departments responded to the scene: the S.C. Highway Patrol, the Santee Police Department, the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office and Orangeburg County Emergency Medical Services.

Some first responders believed Paul Tarashuk may have been on drugs. Video shows some of the first responders apparently getting frustrated with Paul Tarashuk as they dealt with him.

A deputy later dropped Paul Tarashuk off at a gas station, according to a lawsuit filed over the issue.

He was struck by a vehicle and killed a few hours later. It was later determined he had been suffering from a schizophrenic episode.

"A parent would think that having fallen into the hands of law enforcement and/or EMS would have been the best case scenario," his mother said. "For Paul, that wasn't the case."

"The people that should have been the safest to be with, who took an oath to serve and protect, should have saved Paul by getting him to those that would have helped him," she said. "EMS and law enforcement failed our son that night."

Investigation and lawsuit

In May 2019, the State Law Enforcement Division opened a criminal investigation into the incident at the request of 1st Circuit Court Solicitor David Pascoe.

Pascoe had called for a SLED investigation into Tarashuk's death after he had learned that the U.S. Attorney's Office had declined prosecution.

The investigation was closed by Pascoe after SLED conducted a review of the incident.

"We have all looked at the possible criminal liability that might attach to the law enforcement officers and/or emergency service workers that interacted with Paul the evening before his death," Pascoe wrote. "All prosecutors who have examined this case are in agreement and concur with SLED's conclusion."

"In our legal opinion, none of the conduct presented in this matter rises to the level of criminal misconduct in office," Pascoe wrote. "The First Circuit Solicitor's Office considers this investigation closed."

Pascoe said, "My heart goes out to them. I thought they deserved to have a thorough report done. SLED has done that."

Pascoe also noted that in addition to his office, 14th Circuit prosecutors also examined the facts of the case.

Cindy Tarashuk declined comment on whether she feels the case has been handled adequately.

"We trust our attorneys and we are putting our faith in the legal system to provide some justice for our son," she said.

In July 2019, the Tarashuks filed a civil lawsuit against several individuals and agencies, including Orangeburg County, Orangeburg County Emergency Medical Services, the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office, the town of Santee and the Santee Police Department.

The lawsuit, which was later moved to federal court, alleges that officials at the scene were "negligent, and willfully reckless and deliberately indifferent by refusing to provide Mr. Tarashuk with the requisite level of care."

A paramedic was fired and an emergency medical technician was punished after the incident. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control cited both.

The civil suit is expected go to trial on or after May 24, 2021.

In court filings, the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office's denied the allegations put forward in the Tarashuk's complaint and specifically denied the allegation that law enforcement dropped Tarashuk at a closed gas station. The sheriff's office states the gas station was open when Tarashuk was dropped off.

It also denies that law enforcement had informed emergency personnel that Tarashuk would be taken to jail. The lawsuit alleges EMS assumed Tarashuk was being taken to jail.

Allegations that the department was negligent were all denied.

Orangeburg County and Orangeburg County Emergency Medical Services also deny allegations the county was responsible for Tarashuk's death and say the complaint does not provide the proof needed to show liability.

The town of Santee notes it responded outside of its jurisdiction in the case and had handed over the matter to the proper jurisdiction of Orangeburg County EMS and the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office and was not liable for Paul Tarashuk's death.

Lawyers representing Orangeburg County, EMS and the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office could not be reached for comment.

Patrick J. Frawley, who is representing the town of Santee, said "We do not comment on matters in litigation."

Bringing to light to mental illness

Cindy Tarashuk says her family is now working to bring awareness to mental health issues. She noted her research has revealed individuals with mental illness typically do not receive the care they need.

"We hope that this case will bring to light some major problems with the system," she said. "We hope there will be change in how people with mental illness are treated when in a crisis."

"One in five people in this country suffer with some form of mental illness," she said. "When in crises, if the police are called, they are 16 times more likely to die than a person who does not have a mental illness. This is unacceptable. We can't allow this to keep happening."

Cindy Tarashuk said she has been contacted by many parents and caregivers about her son's death.

"What happened to Paul is their biggest fear," she said. "And yet there is currently no one else to call."

Cindy Tarashuk says she is trying to ensure that law enforcement and mobile units are properly trained to respond to mental illness.

"This is an illness that these people did nothing to deserve. And yet they are either treated like criminals, treated badly, disregarded and treated as less than," she said.

She added, "I wish that people could have known Paul for who he was and not only for the illness that he had.

"I wish they could see him for the bright, fun-loving and caring person that his family and friends knew. All that we can do now is pray that Paul's death might bring awareness to make changes, so other parents won't have to suffer like this."

Orangeburg County officials have said the incident has prompted the county to examine how it helps first responders deal with their own mental health issues and better understand the mental health conditions of the individuals they respond to.

On the night Paul died, he was traveling with his emotional support dog Zeppi. The dog has never been found.

"We pray for her return every day," Cindy Tarashuk said. "She was so devoted to Paul."

She thanked all those who have tried to help them find Zeppi.

"The good people of South Carolina have been very supportive during these past two years, and expressed their love and support to our family in this fight to make change for those with mental health issues," she said. "We will forever be grateful."

___

(c)2021 The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, S.C.)

Read more: David Givot, EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board member and EMS lawyer, broke down issues of patient abandonment, negligence and responsibility in a March 2019 analysis, Caught on video: Are they liable for their ‘patient’s’ death?

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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