An ambulance crash early Tuesday morning claimed two lives, including that of 31-year-old Sussex County paramedic Stephanie L. Callaway, the first line-of-duty death the Sussex County Medical Service has seen since the program’s start nearly two decades ago.
According to police reports, an ambulance from the Mid-Sussex Rescue Squad was en route eastbound on Route 24 to Beebe Medical Center in Lewes with Callaway, a patient, and two company emergency medical technicians (EMTs) when it crashed into a row of trees at approximately 2:40 a.m.
The accident occurred approximately a mile east of the Lewes-Rehoboth Beach fire company substation when ambulance driver and Mid-Sussex Rescue Squad EMT Michael E. Wissman, 34, of Frankford turned to the right to avoid a deer in the roadway.
The ambulance’s right wheels caught the edge of the pavement, causing the vehicle to strike a tree and rupturing the rear passenger side of the patient transport compartment, where Callaway was tending to patient, Betty J. Hall, 82, of Lewes. Hall, who was ejected from the ambulance upon impact, was pronounced dead at the scene.
EMT Brice Hickman of Dagsboro, also employed by Mid-Sussex Rescue Squad, was also tending to the Hall when the accident occurred and was also ejected.
Hickman and Wissman were admitted to Beebe Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, according to officials at a news conference held on Tuesday at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center near Georgetown. Wissman was wearing a seatbelt, police noted.
Callaway was transported by ambulance to Beebe Hospital with multiple traumatic injuries but died as a result of those injuries.
The crash has been ruled an accident but further investigation was still ongoing mid-week. The crew had picked up Hall for an interfacility transfer from Renaissance Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Long Neck to Beebe and was running with its emergency equipment activated.
“This is a devastating loss to our department, to the fire service and to the entire regional EMS community,” said Sussex County EMS Director Glenn H. Luedtke. “We are mourning the loss of not just our co-worker, but someone who was a friend to so many.”
Callaway, who had also served as a public information officer for the Sussex County emergency medical program, was one month shy of five years with Sussex County Emergency Medical Services. She had served with the Kent County paramedic program in 2001, before joining Sussex County paramedics in 2003.
President of the county’s paramedics association, Callaway earned her associate’s degree in emergency medical services from Del Tech and her bachelor’s degree in emergency services from George Washington University. Callaway is survived by her husband, Steve, a district fire marshal in Delaware, and their two children.
“This is a very sad day for Sussex County and Sussex County government,” stated County Administrator David Baker. “I’d like to thank the emergency service responders, fire service members, state police and the paramedics who responded and respond every day. This really drives home the point that there is quite a bit of danger involved with their jobs.”
“The EMS is a big family here in Sussex County, and there are a lot of people who need to recover from this,” said Luedtke. A stress management team responded right away to help those with counseling as a result of the incident. “We will be working our way through this as a family, and will provide whatever the families involved need.”
“Ambulances are equipped with seat belts, even in the back,” Luedtke noted, “and our instructions are that passengers use them when possible. But, that being said, if you are rendering patient care in the back of the ambulance, you cannot reach them if you are belted in.
“We don’t know at this time and I don’t know if we will know whether paramedic Callaway was wearing a safety belt during the time of the accident,” Luedtke said.
Contrary to initial reports, Callaway was not ejected from the vehicle, but was found inside the ambulance, officials noted.
According to Luedtke, all ambulance drivers are required to complete an emergency vehicle operation course in the state of Delaware. Heavy rainfall and wind from an overnight storm that started on Monday has not been ruled upon as a possible factor in the crash.
Funeral set for paramedic
A full-honors funeral, including a processional through the heart of Georgetown, will be held Saturday, June 21, 2008, in remembrance of Stephanie L. Callaway, the Sussex County paramedic who died in the line of duty earlier this week.
A viewing will be held from noon to 3 p.m. inside the Delmarva Christian High School gymnasium, U.S. 9 and Airport Road, in Georgetown.
At the conclusion of the viewing, a processional with honor guards and scores of emergency personnel and apparatus will accompany the casket as it is led through town. The processional will pause at the Sussex County Emergency Medical Services headquarters at the County Administrative Offices West Complex, U.S. 113 and U.S. 9 in Georgetown, where Paramedic Callaway’s “last alarm” will be sounded.
The processional will move from there and end at the Carter Partnership Center on the campus of Delaware Technical & Community College, Owens Campus, in Georgetown. Memorial services will be held there, beginning at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Services will be open to the public.
Market Street, from Airport Road to DuPont Boulevard (U.S. 113) will be closed from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday to allow for the processional. The Delaware Department of Transportation will post detours for traffic in and around the Georgetown area.
Those wishing to make donations in memory of Paramedic Callaway are asked to direct their contributions to the following organizations:
• Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary of Sussex County, PO Box 430, Nassau, DE 19969; or
• Delaware Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Sussex Chapter, 22198 DuPont Boulevard, Georgetown, DE 19947.