When her fiance collapsed from a heart attack, Connie Lewis rushed desperately to a stranger, an off-duty police officer, and pleaded for help. She didn't say the dying man carried AIDS. Larry Baker, the officer who gave James Cobern mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, fears he was infected. And Connie Lewis faces felony charges for not warning rescuers of what doctors and federal health officials consider a remote risk.
"The police showed up at my door right after the funeral services," Lewis said.
"They told me they were charging me with reckless endangerment. I just didn't understand because I would never hurt anybody."
Lewis, an unemployed nursing assistant, was jailed for five days. She was freed last week on $2,500 bond. Her case was sent to a county grand jury that will convene in September.
Police said Lewis, 37, endangered rescuers because
she didn't tell them Cobern, 34, had tested positive for the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, until they had nearly exhausted efforts to save him May 22.
"I tried to tell them that at the time I didn't even think about it, that I was panicked," she said. "I couldn't stop crying."
Larry Baker, the man who tried to revive Cobern, believes Lewis purposely withheld the information.
"She knew back in her mind that if she told someone he had AIDS, no one would help her," Baker said. "I wouldn't have touched him."
Lewis said Cobern contracted the HIV virus while getting a tattoo in an Illinois prison, where he served time for theft.
Dr. Allan Bruckheim, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, said there could be a theoretical risk of infection if blood or other fluids splashed from an infected victim into the mouth, eyes or nose of a rescuer, although mere contact with unbroken skin is not considered a risk factor.
Connie Lewis said Cobern never showed symptoms of AIDS, and that she was so frantic during the rescue attempts she didn't think about his infection.
"When I remembered the HIV, I told the ambulance people right then," she said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) hasn't documented any cases of HIV transmission through contact with saliva and believes the chances of it happening are slight.
"If there was any possibility, it would be minuscule," CDC spokesman Mike Greenwell said.
However, even CDC guidelines urge emergency workers to treat all bodily fluids with caution. For mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, it recommends special masks, one-way air tubes or other protective gear.
Martin Police Chief Jackie Moore says he would not expect any of his 18 officers to perform mouth-to-mouth on an HIV-infected person.
Baker has tested negative for the HIV virus, but his doctors said he must be tested in six months to confirm the results.
Police Chief Moore said he would push for a law to require disclosure of HIV infection to police and other rescue workers.
The charge Lewis faces carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison, but she probably wouldn't serve more than 60 days because she has no record, said her attorney, David Hamblen.
Until the grand jury meets, Lewis must stay with Cobern's mother and not to leave the house alone. She said she had planned to return to her family in Hillsdale, Mich.
Lewis spends her days watching television and chewing her fingernails.
She said she often thinks of Cobern's death _ her hurried attempts at resuscitation, the dash to her father's house nearby to call an ambulance, seeing Baker outside and begging for help.
"If I could go back to that day," she said. "I don't know if I'd do anything differently."
_ Information from Times librarian Barbara Hijek was used in this report.