TAMPA — There is no dispute that Nicole Black called 911 around 3 a.m. July 4 after she found her daughter slumped over the bathtub, unresponsive and drooling.
Crystle Galloway, 30, had given birth by Cesarean section six days earlier. When she came round, she kept screaming "Mommy my head," Black said.
But what happened next at Galloway’s Temple Terrace apartment is very much in dispute.
Black says her daughter begged to be taken to a hospital. But Hillsborough County deputies and paramedics questioned if she could afford the $600 cost for a three-block ambulance ride and suggested Galloway had been drinking, Black said.
The paramedics have a different take, saying the mother told deputies she would take Galloway to the hospital. Their only action was to carry Galloway three stories down to her mother’s car, they told county investigators.
Black took Galloway to Brandon Regional Hospital on E Fowler Avenue where a CT scan showed bleeding in her daughter’s brain. She was flown by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital but slipped into a coma.
She died July 9, just three days shy of her 31st birthday.
Four Hillsborough County Fire Rescue paramedics have been placed on paid leave after a county investigation found they failed to check Galloway’s vital signs even though the 911 call had been coded as a possible stroke case. Checking vital signs is required even for incidents in which they are only asked to lift someone, according to the fire department’s standing orders and protocol.
In an interview at her attorney’s office Tuesday, Black said she and her daughter beseeched paramedics for more than 10 minutes to take her to a hospital. The mother decided it was taking too long and that it would be better if she took her.
"My daughter begged for her life," said Black, 53. "The only thing they were worried about was my daughter had a new baby and she couldn’t afford an ambulance."
The four suspended employees are Lt. John "Mike" Morris, 36, who has worked with the department six years; Fire Medic Justin Sweeney, 36, a five-year department employee; Fire Medic Andrew J. Martin, 28, a five-year department employee; and acting Lt. Cortney Barton, 38, a nine-year department employee.
Their failure to check Galloway’s vital signs was described in a county investigation as "gross neglect of duty." They also failed to get Galloway or her mother to sign an informed consent form confirming she was declining medical transport. Later, they logged the call using a code meaning "Non-transport/no patient found," which was described by county officials as falsification of records.
An initial disciplinary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
In written statements, all four fire medics told investigators that Sheriff’s deputies Jacob Lamb and Michael Black had already spoken with Nicole Black about driving her daughter to the hospital. All the medics needed to do was help Galloway get down the stairs in the three-story apartment.
Galloway stood up from a bed herself and walked over to the "stair chair" paramedics brought up to her bedroom. The new mother vomited as she walked, Barton told investigators.
Three paramedics carried Galloway and placed her in the mother’s vehicle. As Barton prepared to enter her report on the call, someone yelled out at her from a passing vehicle, she wrote in her statement. By the time the vehicle sped off, Nicole Black and her daughter were gone, she said.
The statements from the other three paramedics echoed Barton’s account of the call, describing their interactions with Galloway and her mother as brief and cordial.
"If the daughter presented that she was critical, I’m certain our crew would have highly advised that the daughter be transported by EMS," Lt. Morris wrote in a statement.
A separate investigation by the Sheriff’s Office into the conduct of deputies Lamb and Michael Black cleared both of any wrong doing, records show.
"Neither deputy offered medical advice and did not interfere/contradict what was suggested by responding medical personnel," Lt. Gary Denbigh wrote.
Nicole Black, who also goes by the last name Benhammou, has hired Tampa personal injury and medical malpractice attorney Chris Jayson who said he is considering whether to take legal action on his client’s behalf.
Nicole Black said her daughter was special, always the peacemaker in the family and in many ways her favorite. Galloway loved crafts and making things in her garage workshop. She had recently earned a degree in behavioral sciences, Black said.
The mother of two girls, ages 13 and 7, Galloway had been overjoyed to give birth to a son she named Jacob Aden.
Now, she will never see him grow up, said Nicole Black, who plans to raise her daughter’s three children.
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.