A Chicago Fire Department investigation is still incomplete over a year after paramedics failed to treat a gunshot victim as he lay in the street dying, although the department says it has new rules to avoid the “tragic error” in the future.
Erin Carey, 17, initially survived a gunshot wound to his head early June 18, 2018, but was placed under a white sheet by paramedics and “left for dead” for over an hour, according to a lawsuit filed June 17 by Carey’s family in Cook County Circuit Court.
Five other people were also shot — one of them fatally.
Shortly after the shooting, TV cameras captured Carey moving under the sheet for at least 15 minutes before a paramedic uncovered him and began CPR.
Carey, who had graduated that month from Evanston Township High School, died hours later at a hospital.
The fire department took measures shortly after the incident to prevent another death like Carey’s. Paramedics are now required to attach heart monitors to every patient to confirm their vital signs, CFD spokesman Larry Langford said.
“I can tell you that, yes, we have changed procedures in the aftermath of that tragic error,” Langford said.
In the lawsuit, Carey’s family alleges that paramedics could have assessed Carey and taken him to a hospital for proper care and “at least a dignified transition into death.”
Instead, the paramedics and Chicago Fire Department operated on a “conscious disregard” for basic training when they placed a white sheet over teen, the lawsuit states.
An investigation into the handling of shooting victims — and the procedures that led paramedics to leave Carey untreated for several minutes — is still incomplete but days away from being finished, Langford said.
Langford said no one has faced discipline for the incident, but that possible charges would follow the end of the investigation.
‘Somebody truly dropped the ball on this’
A possible reason paramedics mistakenly left Carey untreated was the “piecemeal” way the shooting was announced to emergency responders, Langford said.
Carey was one of six people shot in the 1300 block of South Loomis Street in the University Village neighborhood, authorities said at the time.
The fire department was reviewing radio transmissions to see why all six victims were not called in at once, but instead separately, leading to fewer resources being directed to the scene, Langford said.
“This was spread out, and it wasn’t considered one incident,” Langford said. If it was considered a mass casualty incident, “there would have been one or more supervisors there to call the shots ... There might have been a different response,” he said.
Days later, Carey’s father, Eric Carey, spoke at a televised news conference and lamented the fire department’s treatment of his son.
“Somebody truly dropped the ball on this,” he said. “I think the Fire Department really dropped the ball on my son. Did you check and even see if he had a pulse?”
Erin Carey’s mother and administrator of estate, Mechelle Moore Carter, is suing the city and the unnamed paramedics who covered her son.
The lawsuit seeks damages “to prevent a repetition of these circumstances” and also alleges that Carey most likely would have survived if he had been treated sooner.
Carter and her attorney could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the city’s law department declined to comment.
Change in operating procedures
After the shooting, the department began investigating how paramedics mistakenly thought Carey was dead, and it changed the way paramedics assess shooting victims and anyone else injured.
All patients are now placed on a heart monitors to check for signs of life, Langford said. The monitors will be placed on all patients, unless they have suffered extreme trauma.
In a news conference shortly after the shooting, then-Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said paramedics may have mistaken Carey for dead in the triage process — the practice of first responders sorting victims by medical priority to increase the number of survivors.
A lawyer for Carey’s father, who is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a news conference after the shooting that paramedics should not be making life-or-death decisions for patients.
“Paramedics cannot be making decisions as to who is going to live and who is going to die in their non-medical opinion,” said Nenye Uche, the father’s attorney. “A person can survive a gunshot wound. The problem is, Erin was never given that opportunity.”