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Confusion, ambulance shortage cited in death of Ga. teenager struck by lightning

Chatham Emergency Services CEO called the fatal incident “an extremely rare set of circumstances”


Photo/Chatham Emergency Services

By Jessie Forand

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. — EMS officials are citing confusion and an ambulance shortage for the fatal outcome of a teenager who was struck by lightning last month.

Maiah Mitchell, 15, was struck by lightning on June 12, and CPR was administered immediately by lifeguards and fire personnel. Police units arrived on scene seven minutes after receiving the 911 call, but the assigned ambulance from city-contracted Chatham Emergency Services was an estimated 35 minutes away, WTOC reported.

Mitchell, who was reported as unresponsive and without a pulse, was “loaded into a truck” in order to meet the rig en route, a report by the Tybee Police Department stated.

When first responders intercepted the rig and loaded Mitchell for transport, the ambulance initially drove further inland on the island to a helipad near the Tybee Island Lighthouse to wait for a helicopter transport. The ambulance waited by the helipad for five minutes, before learning the helicopter had been canceled due to limited room, according to the police report.

Chathams Emergency Services CEO Chuck Kearns said helicopters will not transport patients receiving CPR in a phone interview following the incident.

Forty-one minutes after the initial 911 call, Mitchell was transported by ambulance 16 miles to a hospital in Savannah, where she was pronounced dead.

According to Kearns, an ambulance is normally stationed just off the island, but was transporting another patient at the time of the 911 call, and backup had not yet arrived. He cited the ambulance company’s goal of a 12-minute response time and initially called the incident a “fluke,” but later denied that claim, instead calling the incident “an extremely rare set of circumstances.”

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Kearns released a statement which, in part, read: “When asked for an estimated time of arrival, a dispatcher gave an incorrect answer, leading first responders to believe they would have a much longer response time than occurred. Upon making patient contact, our Paramedics and EMTs took over the patient’s care. They continued CPR en-route, while rushing the patient to the hospital where she passed away.”

It continued, “Although we deal with life and death situations daily, we feel tremendous heartache when a young person leaves the world too soon. Our hearts are heavy, especially those of the two paramedics and two EMTs who worked feverously with Tybee’s First Responders to save her life.”