Annapolis mayor defends Snoops' ambulance trip Family of heart attack victim considers taking legal action

August 10, 1991|By John W. Frece and Paul Shread | John W. Frece and Paul Shread,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins said yesterday that Hilda Mae Snoops, the governor's longtime friend and companion, was not given favored treatment when he ordered a city ambulance to take her to a Baltimore hospital on what was classified as a non-emergency run.

But city fire and rescue officials disagree.

A 71-year-old Annapolis man, Thomas C. Sharps, died of cardiac arrest while the ambulance was returning from taking Mrs. Snoops to Good Samaritan Hospital the night of July 24, a trip approved by Mr. Hopkins after being denied by fire officials.

"I don't treat anybody any differently than anybody else," the mayor said. "If you called and requested an ambulance, you would get one."

But Fire Capt. George Sherlock said that if the Sharps family or any other had made such a request, it would have been told to get a private ambulance.

Unless it is an emergency and a patient can only be treated at a different hospital, city policy requires patients to be taken to the nearest hospital, he said.

In this case, that would have been the Anne Arundel Medical Center, about two blocks from the governor's mansion.

Frank Traynor, press secretary to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said at a news conference that any attempt to link Mr. Sharps' death to Mrs. Snoops' use of the ambulance was nothing more than a "cold, calculated effort to try to cast a bad light on both Mrs. Snoops and the governor."

"The view of the governor is that it is just a mean-spirited coupling of two unrelated events," he said. He also denied Mrs. Snoops received favored treatment because she is Mr. Schaefer's longtime companion. "I think this is just crap," he said.

Mr. Sharps' granddaughter, Tammy Forrester, said yesterday that the family was considering suing. "From what we understand, the city did a favor for the governor and we are considering taking legal action," she said.

Mr. Traynor said state police "did what anyone else would have done" when the already ailing Mrs. Snoops fell in the governor's mansion July 24, hitting her head and injuring her back.

Told that her regular doctor did not have privileges in Anne Arundel Medical Center, Capt. Larry W. Tolliver, head of the governor's security detail, requested an ambulance to take her to Baltimore. But the battalion chief on duty said that city procedures prohibited the use of ambulances for non-emergency transfers.

Captain Tolliver then called Mayor Hopkins, who authorized use of the vehicle. Fire officials said that Mr. Hopkins was unaware of his city's ambulance policy.

The mayor said he was told by Captain Tolliver that it was an emergency. "I believed him and acted on it," he said. City records show that Mrs. Snoops' transport was classified as a "priority 3," the least urgent classification of medical need.

At 10:21 p.m., however -- before the ambulance could return to service in Annapolis -- a "911" call came in that Mr. Sharps had gone into cardiac arrest. Because the second Annapolis ambulance was on another call, a backup from Anne Arundel County was summoned to the Sharps' house.

But it did not get there for about eight minutes -- about two minutes longer than it would have taken the ambulance used to take Mrs. Snoops to Baltimore, city officials said. Mr. Sharps later died.

Captain Sherlock said that under normal conditions, a city ambulance can travel between the two farthest points of the city within six minutes. But he said time was not a factor in Mr. Sharps' case.

By the time the ambulance arrived, Fire Department paramedics were already on the scene and working on Mr. Sharps. At that point, the patient went into full cardiac arrest.

Mr. Traynor said that he did not know why state police did not try to arrange a private ambulance for Mrs. Snoops but added that she was lying on the floor in obvious pain and that they concluded it was an emergency.

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