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Washington State investigates a decision to leave a body on a driveway

by Jack Hopkins

The state Department of Health has begun an investigation into a paramedic's decision to take a dead patient back to his house, where the man's body remained in his driveway for several hours.

But a Pierce County fire official maintains that the paramedic returned to the home only to check on the man's widow, who suffers from Alzheimer's. "The decision was reached out of compassion and caring for the man's wife," said John Sinclair, assistant chief of the Pierce County Central Fire District.

In the meantime, the county's Department of Emergency Management is preparing to look into the way way paramedics and firefighters handle the dead. Currently, the county has no rules on what to do with the bodies of those people who die en route to the hospital.

"Our focus is on treatment of the living and we have been very limited in developing protocols for post-care of victims," said Steve Bailey, who supervises Pierce County's Emergency Medical Services Office.

On Oct. 2, Charles Bardsley, 76, died en route to Good Samaritan Hospital, which is about 50 miles from his home. Instead of continuing to the Puyallup hospital, the paramedic turned around and brought Bardsley back to his house in Ashford, just west of Mount Rainier National Park.

"The main concern the paramedic had was for the patient's wife at that point . . . The decision was made to go back and check on the wife. It was felt that was the most humane thing to do," Sinclair said.

"We wanted to break the news to his wife and ensure her medical care." The paramedic spent 90 minutes talking with Eileen Bardsley, the widow and a neighbor, and he even talked on the phone to Bardsley's daughter, Sinclair said.

Bardsley's widow, Eileen Bardsley, 73, seemed confused and didn't appear to understand her husband was dead, so the paramedic decided to leave the body outside, Sinclair said. "They just did not feel comfortable in putting the deceased in there for the wife to view," he said.

The body, strapped to a medical board and partially covered with a blanket, was taken from the aid car and left on the Bardsleys' driveway. Sinclair said the paramedic didn't leave until a Lewis County deputy sheriff arrived and agreed to remain with the body until a deputy coroner showed up. Bardsley lived near the Lewis County line.

The assistant chief disputed the account of Bardsley's relatives, who said they found his body -- unattended -- when they arrived at his home about three hours after he died. Cindy Bardsley of Auburn, the dead man's daughter-in-law, said that she and her husband, Dennis, were shocked to find Charles Bardsley lying in the driveway next to the trash. She called the decision to leave him in the driveway "the most inhumane thing I have ever seen or heard of in my entire life."

Cindy Bardsley also complained that a representative from the Lewis County Coroner's Office, who spoke with them about 15 minutes after their arrival, wouldn't let them move Charles Bardsley inside.

She said the body remained in the driveway for hours until a funeral home driver from nearby Chehalis, Lewis County, arrived to pick it up. Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson said he believes the incident was handled poorly.

The paramedic, he said, should have taken Bardsley's body to the hospital or to the nearby fire station. But Sinclair said the paramedic, who wasn't named, was being unfairly criticized.

Yesterday, Jack Cvitanovic, head of licensing and certification for the state health department, said he could not comment on the agency's investigation until it is completed. He said he doesn't know how long that will take, but he warned it is not likely to be finished quickly.

P-I reporter Jack Hopkins can be reached at 206-870-7851 or jackhopkins@seattle-pi.com

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