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Suffolk probes false claims of death in ambulance

BY STACEY ALTHERR

stacey.altherr@newsday.com

Suffolk County officials say they want answers from an ambulance company after learning one of the squad's members falsely claimed at a public meeting that a patient had died because it was not notified that a road would be closed.

According to a letter sent Wednesday to Michael Ryan, chief of the Mastic Volunteer Ambulance Corp., by Dr. Linda Mermelstein, who oversees emergency medical operations for the county's Health Department, the claim last week that a blocked Mastic road caused a 7 1/2-minute delay and that a patient in the ambulance had died was not true.

Ryan declined to comment.

The speaker at the legislative safety meeting last week, Tim Ryan, father of Chief Ryan, also claimed that the family of the alleged deceased victim had been notified by the ambulance company of the reason for the delay, which was also not true, the letter states. Chief Ryan, in that same letter, called the incident a "miscommunication."

"While I appreciate your taking responsibility for the outrageous factual claims made at a public meeting," stated Mermelstein in the letter, "the fact that the county has wasted extraordinary amounts of time and energy in investigating a claim of a death that never occurred cannot be overlooked. . . . Members of the public in attendance at that meeting, members of the press, and county employees, not knowing that the story was completely false, are now under the impression that an innocent life was taken and the county is responsible."

According to Mermelstein, Chief Ryan said the matter will be investigated internally.

After Tim Ryan made the claim at last Thursday's meeting, several officials immediately began investigating, including Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who called for a full investigation. Fire Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joseph Williams, who was present at the meeting, immediately looked for records of the call but was unable to find one that matched Tim Ryan's description.

Browning said yesterday she was relieved no one had died, and that the ambulance company does a great job. "I'm sure the ambulance company will handle the situation the best way they can," she said.

During the investigation, it was determined that the ambulance company was not notified of the road closure at Montauk Highway and Titmus Drive by the contractor, Posillico Civil Inc., as mandated by the county. Department of Public Works officials said they have now tightened up the procedure by requiring written confirmation of the notification. Posillico said in a statement that it believes correct procedure was followed, but it is still investigating.

The $12-million road project on Montauk Highway has been going on for several months, county officials said.

- With Rick Brand

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