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Choking victim's family to sue Pasco emergency services

Last spring, Nancy McGhee's boyfriend made a frantic call to 911.

His girlfriend was choking on a piece of steak, and he needed instructions on the Heimlich maneuver. The dispatcher wasn't trained to help him, so she asked her supervisor for help three times. He refused, saying "I am not getting on with a hysterical caller."

Seven minutes later, the supervisor got on the line to talk Chris Cooper through the Heimlich maneuver.

By the time paramedics arrived, McGhee, 37, was dead.

Today, her family's attorney is filing a notice of intent to sue Pasco County Emergency Services.

The family is seeking money — the maximum is $200,000 — and emergency services training for the county's dispatchers, said Tom Carey, the family's attorney. The county has six months to respond before a lawsuit is filed, Carey said.

McGhee's daughter, Crissy Cresong, did not return calls on Tuesday seeking comment.

It was 9:14 p.m. on March 24, 2007 when county dispatchers got Cooper's call.

In written accounts of the incident, dispatcher Jennie Montanino said after she and another employee were refused help by supervisor David Cook, lead communications officer Maureen Thomas said, "I am not getting on."

Thomas said she didn't remember being asked to help, or saying that she wouldn't get on the phone.

Eventually, Cook explained the Heimlich maneuver, which helps dislodge items from someone's windpipe, to Cooper, who put down the phone and tried it on McGhee.

"He left the freakin' phone," Cook said, according to the 911 tape.

When the maneuver didn't work, Cook passed the caller back to Montanino. Several dispatchers said Cook slammed the phone on his desk and said, "I'm over this already."

Cooper sobbed as McGhee died.

An ambulance came 11 minutes after Cooper called 911. Records show the closest rescue workers were fighting a house fire, so responders had to come from another district.

When word got back to the dispatchers that McGhee died, written accounts of the incident say Cook said: "She must have bitten off more than she can chew."

The county launched an investigation the next day.

Cook was placed on leave. Soon after, he took early retirement. Thomas eventually resigned.

McGhee's death prompted a policy change for the county's 911 dispatchers.

Before McGhee's call, only 18 of the 29 dispatchers had the required emergency training, which is not required by the state.

McGhee's death prompted county officials to order mandatory training for Montanino, the other emergency communications officers and new employees, said Barbara DeSimone, county personnel director.

"Two others just started a week ago, and they will be trained before they're assigned to a shift," DeSimone said. "They trained everybody right away. As new people are hired, they had this procedure where they took care of it right away.”

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Choking victim's family to sue Pasco emergency services 04/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:33am]
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