TAMPA — Officers responding to calls of an erratic driver suspected he could be suffering a medical episode, a police spokeswoman said Thursday, but briefly put him in handcuffs anyway because he was resistant.
The driver, Arthur Green Jr., 63, of Tampa was uncuffed when he stopped breathing after the Wednesday incident and later died at St. Joseph Hospital. According to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office, he suffered from an extremely low blood-sugar level and his pulse stopped while being detained by police.
Green was the husband of prominent Tampa Heights community leader Lena Young-Green, whose son, Owen Young, is the principal of Middleton High School.
Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Thursday that preliminary information indicates the two officers involved followed policy. However, as part of normal procedure when there is a death during a police call, the agency will conduct two investigations — one by detectives and another by Internal Affairs.
Police said the incident began about 4:35 p.m. Wednesday when callers said a driver was swerving across Central Avenue, onto the sidewalk and into a stop sign.
As police arrived, Green veered into oncoming traffic and hit two cars. No one was injured, but he was stopped by Tampa police DUI officer Anthony Portman.
Portman asked Green to hand over his keys and get out of the car, but Green became "combative," McElroy said. Green did not attack the officer, she said, but was resistant, shoving the officer and struggling against him.
Portman called for backup. Then, about a minute later, he called for Tampa Fire Rescue to send medics.
According to McElroy, Portman realized that Green did not show the typical signs of intoxication. The officer suspected it was a medical situation.
When the backup officer — Cpl. Matt Smith — arrived, he concurred. Smith has seen diabetic incidents before and suspected this was one of them, McElroy said.
Paramedics were already on their way, but the officers still felt they needed to get Green restrained, she said. They handcuffed him.
But Green stopped breathing.
The officers uncuffed him and began CPR. Green did not have a pulse when Fire Rescue arrived at the scene, according to the Medical Examiner's report released Thursday.
Crews took him to St. Joseph's. After trying for 19 minutes to resuscitate Green, doctors there declared him dead.
He had a blood-sugar level of just 29, according to the medical report. Hypoglycemia, or low blood-sugar, includes anything under 70 milligrams per deciliter, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"A level of 29 is very, very low," said Dr. Henry Rodriguez, who is a pediatric endocrinologist with USF Health.
At that level, the body releases counter-regulators, including hormones that can create a fight-or-flight reaction. Also, because the brain needs a constant source of sugar, a person can become confused and agitated, he said.
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People with hypoglycemia can suffer seizures and even die if their organs don't get enough sugar to function, he said.
Police have since learned Green has a history of diabetic incidents.
Rescue crews responded to his home twice before — on Feb. 17th and a week ago — for diabetic-related incidents.
Green was commissioner of the Unity Youth Football Conference when it began in 2005 and helped start the Robles Park Wildcats, said Orlando Gudes, a Tampa police officer and executive director of the conference.
Green's children played sports and helping the community "was a part of his family culture," Gudes said.
Gudes said he often saw Green in the morning in Robles Park or getting coffee at the nearby Circle K.
"He loved the kids in the area. He loved being part of the Robles Park Community," Gudes said.
State records show that Green had only one driving infraction — cited with going 31 in a 15 mph zone in 2004.
Last month, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn mentioned Lena Young-Green during his State of the City speech. At Thursday's Tampa City Council meeting, the council agreed at the request of member Frank Reddick to send condolences to the widow.
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.