Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What speed is safe on emergency runs?

What speed is safe on emergency runs?

June 17, 2008
By Dana Wilson
The Columbus Dispatch
Copyright 2008 The Columbus Dispatch

DELAWARE, Ohio — George Haggard was waiting for his wife to arrive home so they could go out to dinner when he heard the sirens blaring along Liberty Road.

He was shocked when, instead of her Dodge Caravan, an ambulance stopped at the end of his driveway along Carriage Road, near Powell. The medics told him Dorothy, 67, had been in a car crash.

"They said, 'Your wife is on a backboard in the back,' " Mr. Haggard, 70, recalled.

Her injuries mostly were minor, so he followed the ambulance to the hospital. Later, his wife described to him how her vehicle was hit by a deputy sheriff's cruiser.

It was just before 6 p.m. on June 5, and Mrs. Haggard was driving south on Liberty Road when she heard emergency sirens. She pulled off to the right berm. Heading north on the same road, Delaware County Deputy Charles Gannon Jr. lost control of his cruiser, according to the State Highway Patrol.

The cruiser went off the road, then sideswiped a Liberty Township ambulance stopped in traffic. The cruiser veered off the road again, then struck Mrs. Haggard's van, pushing it into a GMC Sierra also along the berm.

A fifth car that veered off the road to avoid the cruiser hit a tree instead.

Gannon, 33, later told troopers that he was en route to an emergency call and estimated he was traveling between 50 and 70 mph. The posted speed limit on Liberty Road is 45 mph.

The State Highway Patrol cited Gannon for operating a vehicle without reasonable control, a misdemeanor. His driving privileges at work have been suspended pending an internal review, Sheriff Walter L. Davis said.

"We'll look at everything," Davis said. "We understand that we have to be responsible. We understand that we have to, first and foremost, use good common sense and good judgment."

The crash, Gannon's second on-duty wreck, raises the question of how fast is too fast for an emergency vehicle.

The patrol says that depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the call, traffic, weather and time of day.

"He was cited for the crash, so they believe that there was some type of negligence, but it's a tricky call," State Highway Patrol Sgt. D.J. Smith said. "There is no, per se, 'You can only go this fast.'

"Firetrucks and medics cannot go 10 miles above the posted speed limit and must stop at red lights and stop signs, Liberty Township Fire Chief John Bernans said.

He said first-responders must evaluate every call and practice common sense.

"Are you running 90 miles an hour on a broken ankle versus a heart attack?"

Gannon said he was responding to a report of a suicidal person on June 5.

Mrs. Haggard was badly bruised in the crash and suffered torn rib cartilage. Drivers or passengers in two other vehicles suffered minor injuries.

"What he did is put my wife's life in jeopardy by a poor decision," Mr. Haggard said of Gannon. "If you're going to save a life, you don't want to endanger other people, too."

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