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Emergency calls can lead to danger for others

When emergency vehicles rush to save lives with lights and sirens going, death can follow.

It's March 29, a Saturday afternoon, and Janet Mauriello is on the back of a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic heading east on Park Boulevard.

Janet is 67. Her husband, Robert, 70, is up front, gripping the throttle. The Indian Rocks Beach couple have ridden motorcycles together for nearly 50 years.

It's sunny and warm, with little wind. A fine day to ride.

Police reports, interviews and 911 recordings detail what happens next:

At 4:09 p.m., a worried man in Pinellas Park calls 911.

"I have an emergency here with my son and a dog that bit him," he says. "And the owner is trying to, I don't know, be aggressive against me."

The call taker gets the man's location, then asks, "Do I need to send paramedics out for your son?"

It's the only time the call taker will ask a medical question during the 1-minute, 40-second call.

"Not now," the man says. "Well, just to make sure that he's all right, please, if it's possible."

"Sure," the call taker says. "I'll send them out there."

Dispatchers send an ambulance, plus a fire engine. The Pinellas Park rescue unit assigned to the area is on another call, so a nearby unit is sent.

The rescue vehicle, lights and siren on, heads down 52nd Street, toward the dog bite call and Park Boulevard.

David Monroe, who teaches ethics at St. Petersburg College, is driving his Honda Prelude east on Park Boulevard. He has a green light at 52nd Street.

But hearing the rescue unit headed south, he slams on his brakes, allowing the vehicle through the intersection.

Robert Mauriello's motorcycle is about 70 feet behind Monroe. He leans on the rear brake and grabs the front. White smoke flies as the bike's tires lock up.

The Harley begins to slide, falling to the right.

Janet Mauriello is tossed into the next lane. Her helmeted head strikes the left front fender of a Dodge Dakota pickup, and she is pulled under the truck.

At 4:13 p.m., virtually the same moment or just seconds after Janet Mauriello falls, dispatchers downgrade the dog bite to a nonemergency.

The 8-year-old boy's injuries are found to be minor.

Mauriello is pronounced dead at Northside Hospital at 4:45 p.m.

• • •

No charges are being sought in Mauriello's death, which police have determined was an accident. Mauriello's family declined to speak with the Times, saying they've been advised not to.

Deputy Pinellas Park Fire Chief Steve McCarthy likewise declined to talk.

"Not because we have done anything wrong," he said, "but because I'm sure it's going to end up in court at some point."

Alan Craig, a researcher and deputy chief of Toronto EMS, said there's a name for the chain of events that took Mauriello's life. In the EMS community, it's called a "wake effect" accident.

"All lights-and-siren emergency response carries with it a risk," Craig said. "And we need to take steps to be certain about the risks we take."

• • •

The day of the accident, the driver who ran over Mauriello was heading home to celebrate his 18th wedding anniversary.

That night, James Harrison of Lithia didn't tell his wife he had accidently killed a woman. That took a few days.

"I'm not dealing real well," said Harrison, 36, who restores hot rods and show cars. "But I'm dealing better than her husband is, I'm sure."

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Will Gorham contributed to this report.

Emergency calls can lead to danger for others 04/26/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 4, 2008 11:57am]
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