Emergency personnel negligence blamed for death of woman, 22

Published 11:57 am Thursday, February 24, 2011

Five emergency officials in Vicksburg and Warren County are being sued in circuit court claiming an unheeded emergency call caused a Vicksburg woman’s death in 2009.

In court briefs, Andrew Williams says his daughter, Ashley N. Williams, died Nov. 22, 2009, as a result of negligence on the part of ambulance and emergency dispatch services when a call to 911 three days earlier ended by hanging up.

Ashley, who was 22 and suffering from breathing problems, was at her father’s residence at 500 Melrose Ave., when she had the fatal attack, the suit says.

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The 22-page civil action incorporates claims of medical malpractice, wrongful death and general negligence and names Vicksburg Warren E-911, Vicksburg Fire Department and the City of Vicksburg as defendants. It also specifies several unnamed defendants and the communications and ambulance services, functions of which are part of the dispatch center and the fire department. Williams is suing individually, as administrator of Ashley’s estate and on behalf of her beneficiaries.

Williams seeks $500,000 in compensatory damages — the state-set cap on damages both economic and non-economic — plus medical and funeral bills, among other expenses, and for psychological and emotional distress. It also asks for a jury trial, though the Mississippi Tort Claims Act mandates bench trials in suits against government entities.

A judge has not been assigned to the case, filed Feb. 4, by Williams’ attorney, J. Howard Thigpen of Jackson-based Morgan & Morgan.

The suit says family members told emergency officials she had tried to use an inhaler and nebulizer, to no avail, and said where she was located. The suit says the defendants “failed to remain on the phone” until an ambulance arrived. Her breathing problems worsened and another call was placed, the suit claims, though the time frame isn’t specified.

The suit, which tells only one side, says she died of severe hypoxic encephalopathy, respiratory distress and severe asthma exacerbation, among other unspecified instances.

A pre-suit notice from the plaintiff’s attorney notes Ashley was taken to River Region Medical Center by private vehicle.

Documents in the case show pre-suit notices were mailed to E-911 Director Jason Tatum, Vicksburg Fire Chief Charles Atkins, City Clerk Walter Osborne, Attorney General Jim Hood and Chancery Clerk Dot McGee.

Tatum was hired by the seven-member E-911 Commission in February 2010, three months after Williams’ death.

The Vicksburg Fire Department runs the ambulance service for emergency calls placed inside the city and charges Warren County a flat fee for calls outside the city.