12-27-04-The scene around the service bays behind the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center on Ulmerton Road can be borderline hectic. Sunstar ambulances are constantly pulling into the two bays to be cleaned and resupplied, and workers are moving about tending to the vehicles, which are then returned to a parking area a short distance away.
Just before 8 p.m. Monday, Donna L. Miller, 39, and two co-workers were walking behind an ambulance that had been resupplied and was backing out of a bay. According to witness accounts and a Florida Highway Patrol report, the back-up alarm on the ambulance sounded and two of the workers moved away from the vehicle.
But Miller, who lives in Largo and had been on the job about two months, veered into the path of the ambulance and was run over, authorities said. She was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center, where she remained in critical condition Tuesday night.
The driver of the ambulance, Antoine V. Claquin, 22, of Tampa, was not charged. He was placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
According to state records, Claquin has received four traffic tickets in the past two years, including a seat belt violation, operating a motor vehicle without insurance, driving a car with an expired license tag, and doing 80 mph in a 65 mph zone. Sunstar operates 55 ambulances in Pinellas County and answers about 107,000 calls a year. Both Claquin and Miller are employed by Sunstar as medical management assistants, assigned to resupply the ambulances. According to Sunstar officials, neither are EMTs, but both took emergency vehicle operation courses and are qualified to drive ambulances.
“These folks are jockeying ambulances all night long,” said county spokeswoman Marcia Crawley. “If you can imagine somebody who’s constantly hearing these sounds and watching the ambulances pull in and out . . . I suspect they become numb after a while.
“Does that explain what occurred? I have no idea. But you can get the sense of how one can become desensitized to the noise.”
In a news release Tuesday, Sunstar chief operating officer Mark Postma called the incident “a tragic accident” and said Sunstar “will conduct an internal investigation to find out what happened while continuing to review our safety procedures and policies.”
Asked why two workers heard the alarm and moved out of the way, but Miller did not, “We’re asking the same question,” Postma said.