Family gets $3K bill after ambulance breaks down, man dies in it

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LIMON, Colo. (KDVR) — Family members of a man who died after the ambulance he was riding in broke down say they plan to sue the city that operates the service.

In a notice of claim letter, the attorney for Lonnie Hendrickson’s family informed the City of Limon, Colorado that he intends to file a legal complaint for Hendrickson’s “wrongful death” in September 2019.

“While Mr. Hendrickson was in a life-threatening condition, the ambulance stalled en route to Swedish Medical Center. During this time, essential and vital medical care was unable to be provided to Mr. Hendrickson and he expired,” a letter drafted by John Astuno Jr., an attorney for Hendrickson’s family, said.

The family also has questions for the hospital that treated Hendrickson before he was transported to another facility.

“I would just like to know what happened – if it was an accident or what it was. We just want to know the truth,” said Tawnie Baeza, one of Hendrickson’s daughters.

The ambulance broke down in Strasburg, approximately 120 miles into the transport from Limon to the Denver area.

“They … had steam coming into the vents, into the ambulance. They thought it was smoke, but they pulled over … and realized that the engine had blown a radiator hose or something because there was water spraying everywhere when they lifted the hood,” said Rob Handley, who runs Limon Ambulance Service.

Handley said that during his time as director, he has never seen another ambulance break down during the transfer of a patient.

The patient was stable during the trip, he said.

The crew declined to transfer Hendrickson to another ambulance company’s vehicle in Strasburg. Instead, Handley said he immediately dispatched a second Limon Ambulance Service vehicle – with lights and sirens – to the location, and it arrived about 30 minutes after the first ambulance went out of service.

“They both thought it was in the best interest of the patient just to continue on because now, they would have to switch crews which would constitute an interruption of care there,” he said. “I don’t think it would have made any difference if we got there 30 minutes faster or 45 minutes or an hour faster,” said Handley.

An autopsy report obtained by sister station KDVR mentions the ambulance problem when explaining Hendrickson’s final diagnosis.

“During transport to Swedish hospital,” the autopsy says, “the ambulance broke down delaying transfer and care.”

According to the autopsy, Hendrickson died of “acute cardiac arrest associated with three days of intractable nausea and vomiting from an apparent upper gastrointestinal illness.” The report said hypertensive cardiovascular disease contributed to his death.

“I love him and miss him,” said Billie Cozart, one of Hendrickson’s daughters. “I’m sorry that we left him with an ambulance service, and… maybe if one of us would’ve rode with him, things could’ve been different,” she said.

Cozart said she received a bill totaling more than $3,000 for her father’s ride.

“It just makes me mad after everything that happened,” said Cozart.

“I feel like if he would’ve passed away in a hospital, I would have been more comfortable with that – that they tried everything,” said Jessica Garay, one of Hendrickson’s daughters. “But the fact that he was just sitting on the side of the road and passed away there, that hurt. It’s painful.”

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