A Colorado state health official said Thursday he plans to make ambulance safety a key agenda item in the wake of two Colorado ambulance crashes that have killed three people this month. Randy Kuykendall, chief of the emergency medical and trauma services section at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said ambulance companies are licensed and regulated by the counties in which they operate, not the state.
But that doesn’t mean, he said, that the state – which does certify and regulate paramedics and emergency medical technicians – should turn a blind eye to the recent tragedies.
Kuykendall made his remarks in the wake of revelations that Rural/Metro Ambulance driver Christopher M. Larusso, 22, of Westminster, who was at the wheel in a Tuesday crash that killed two near Sterling, had four traffic violations in the past three years.
“We are going to take this issue, along with, certainly, the other unfortunate incident in Boulder last week, and we’re going to make this a major topic of dicussion at our state emergency medical and trauma advisory council, to continue looking into what we can do to make it safer for patients and providers,” he said.
Kuykendall emphasized that the state doesn’t license EMTs or paramedics specifically as ambulance drivers. For an EMT or paramedic to be at the wheel of an ambulance, he or she need only be in good standing with the Department of Motor Vehicles and meet all other requirements of their individual employer.
Court records show that state-certified EMT Larusso was cited on Pea Boulevard on April 4, 2003, for speeding 10 to 14 mph over the speed limit and pleaded guilty to operating an unsafe vehicle, for which he was fined $101.
On July 28 the same year, he was ticketed for following too closely on Leetsdale Road at Exposition Avenue, pleaded guilty again to operating an unsafe vehicle and fined $110.
The next violations were July 20, 2005, charges of speeding 20 to 24 mph over the speed limit and driving too fast for conditions. He was fined about $140.
Larusso’s most recent citation came Sept. 8, when he was stopped on East 17th Avenue in Denver for failure to use a seat belt, for which he was fined $54.
A representative of Rural/Metro Ambulance could not be reached Thursday for comment on Larusso’s record.
Jefferson County, one of several Colorado counties in which Rural/ Metro Ambulance is licensed, renewed the company’s license to operate there just last month.
Jefferson County spokeswoman Kathryn Heider said her county shows no record of any problems with Rural/Metro Ambulance for at least two years nor has Jefferson County been notified during that time of any problems reported by the other counties with which Rural/Metro Ambulance also contracts.
In the Tuesday crash, on Interstate 76 about 15 miles southwest of Sterling, the westbound Rural-Metro Ambulance driven by Larusso clipped the rear of a semi-trailer as it moved from the right to left lane, triggering a collision that destroyed the front end of the ambulance.
Killed were nurse Karen Woods, 43, of Elizabeth, and ultrasound technician Vicky Thomas, 35, of North Platte, Neb.
The pregnant patient in that ambulance, Kelsey Schlichenmayer, 43, of Burlington, was initially listed in critical condition. She delivered her baby boy Tuesday night at Swedish Medical Center, and both remained in serious condition Thursday.
However, “They are both improving, and doing very well,” hospital spokeswoman Julie Lonborg said.
In addition to the Sterling-area crash, Boulder High School junior Hannah Nicole Bauer Boemker, 16, of Lafayette, was killed May 1 when her car hit a Pridemark Paramedic Services ambulance at 30th Street and Euclid Avenue in Boulder.
By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News