Chief says 'They got what they deserved'

August 24, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

SMITHSBURG - Shortly after a member of Smithsburg's fire department died in March, the chief of Smithsburg's ambulance squad at the time - who would not respond to the call - said the fire department "got what they deserved," according to a tape and a transcript of emergency calls obtained by The Herald-Mail.

Earlier that morning - as Christina Hess, the patient and fire department member, was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital - Jason Tracey, the ambulance chief, twice mockingly called the situation "a tragedy" as he talked to an emergency dispatcher, the tape shows.

Tom Altman, the president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, said Monday that a committee recommended about a month after the incident that Tracey be suspended.


Tracey apparently is no longer with the ambulance squad, but those interviewed for this story didn't know when that happened.

Emergency services officials and the president of Smithsburg Community Volunteer Fire Co. said Tracey's comments surprised them. Since a quarrel over a rescue truck was resolved two years ago, the departments have gotten along well, they said.

Hess, 20, and her unborn baby died on March 5.

Hess' fiancÃ??, Danny Gibson, who also was a fire department member, called 911 at 7:22 a.m. that day, the transcript shows.

Hess' exact medical problem was redacted from the copy of the tape and the transcript, other than that she was seizing.

Hess' mother, Tammy Reed, said Monday that Hess died of a condition similar to preeclampsia, in which a pregnant woman's blood pressure suddenly rises.

The 911 call came from the home Hess and Gibson shared at 2 Maple Ave.

Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services, which is three doors down at 8 Maple Ave., reached the scene nine minutes after Gibson first called and seven minutes after the call was dispatched.

An ambulance crew took Hess to Washington County Hospital, where she and her baby, Hunter Daniel Hess Gibson, were pronounced dead, according to their obituary.

In a series of telephone conversations during and after the medical call, dispatchers, responders and others talked about what was happening.

The Herald-Mail on May 11 filed a Maryland Public Information Act request with Washington County's attorney, Richard Douglas, for a copy of those conversations.

Douglas responded on May 25, providing copies of three calls Gibson made to 911 and conversations between the dispatcher, the ambulance crew and a fire department crew after the call was dispatched.

Through its attorney, Mary Jean Craig, The Herald-Mail made another request on July 20. Three weeks later, the county also released copies of other conversations that went through the 911 dispatch center, which automatically records them. Under Maryland law, they are public information.

Two conversations

Two of the conversations were between Tracey and 911 dispatcher Robert Myerly, who also was the EMS assistant chief under Tracey at Smithsburg.

First, at 7:51 a.m., before the ambulance carrying Hess arrived at Washington County Hospital, Tracey, who did not respond to the call, heard that a fire department member was involved.

"It's a tragedy," he said mockingly.

"His girlfriend," Myerly said.

"It's a tragedy," Tracey again said mockingly, singing his words.

When Myerly added, "Danny Gibson's girlfriend," Tracey responded in a similar mocking tone, "My heart weeps."

During a later conversation with Myerly, apparently after Hess' death is known, Tracey said, "I mean, you know, listen, they get what they deserve. Mother, child, son, daughter, brother, sister - they got what they deserved.

"The hell with them. I hate to be a cold bastard like that, but you know they're out to screw me and sometimes it comes back around."

Attempts to reach Tracey for comment were unsuccessful.

He is not listed in the telephone directory. Someone who answered the phone at the ambulance squad Thursday said he is no longer a member.

A Smithsburg man who identified himself as Jason Tracey's grandfather said to try him at an orchard run by Jason's parents, Leroy and Sharon Tracey.

A woman who answered the phone there on Friday said there was no Tracey family connected to the orchard.

During a second call a short time later, Sharon Tracey would not pass a message to Jason Tracey or acknowledge that she knew him. "I can't help you with that," she repeated several times.

911 call

Gibson first called 911 at 7:22:59 a.m. on March 5, according to the transcript.

After asking Gibson several questions, a dispatcher identified as Bowers told him, "The ambulance has been started" before the call disconnected.

Another dispatcher, identified as Hopkins, called for a Smithsburg ambulance at 7:34:57, or 1 minute, 58 seconds after Gibson placed his call.

Gibson called 911 again 6 minutes, 5 seconds after placing his first call to say he was still waiting for an ambulance.

Gibson called a third time 6 minutes, 39 seconds after his first call started and said he heard an emergency crew coming.

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