The trail to Leinster Bay, above, does not allow for car access, which contributed to EMT’s one hour response time.
When a report of a 64-year-old woman in distress in the Waterlemon Bay area came in to 911’s Central Dispatch on Saturday, May 19, it took more than an hour before Emergency Medical Service responders were able to reach the victim.
“The drowning at Leinster Bay was very upsetting to a lot of people,” said a St. John Rescue member who asked to not be identified. “Everyone dragged their feet on this one.”
Someone called 911 at 1:59 p.m. to report a possible drowning and the woman was pronounced dead at 4:15 p.m. that afternoon. The woman, a resident of Florida, had been on a vessel moored in the Leinster Bay area when the incident occurred.
The victim had originally been snorkeling with three companions who got out of the water but kept watch on her, according to a prepared statement from the V.I. Police Department.
When the victim seemed in distress, her companions got into a dinghy and went to her assistance and called 911, according to the VIPD information.
St. John EMS officers, V.I. Fire Department officials and V.I. National Park rangers all responded to the incident, according to the VIPD’s prepared statement.
While all of those agencies did in fact respond, not one official reached the woman before an entire hour had elapsed, according to the St. John Rescue member who was monitoring the incident via the emergency call system.
“We can’t just show up somewhere; 911 has to call you,” he said. “Someone calls 911 to report an incident and they determine who the best resource to use is to help the person in need.”
Despite having a power boat at their disposal, St. John Rescue was not dispatched to the incident, according to the first responder.
“The fastest way to get to Leinster Bay is by boat,” he said. “For St. John Rescue it would take us about 18 minutes; for VINP it would take about 12 minutes because their boat is faster.”
“If you drive out there from Cruz Bay that takes you about 25 minutes and probably more like 35 minutes,” said the first responder. “It was an hour before anyone got to her.”
The 911 operators dispatched EMS officials from the Morris F. deCastro Clinic, who got into their ambulance and headed out to North Shore Road. The first people on the scene were V.I. Fire Department officers from the Coral Bay station, who drove to the parking lot area at Annabberg Ruins at the Leinster Bay trailhead.
Cars cannot access the Leinster Bay trail and the woman was on a boat when VIFD officers arrived, according to the St. John Rescue member.
Then EMS arrived, but they too could not reach the victim, the first responder added.
“EMS does not get wet,” he said. “They sent EMS all the way out to Leinster and they wouldn’t get out of the ambulance when they got to the beach. What finally happened is they got National Park officers out there.”
While there might not have been anything anyone could have done to prevent the woman’s death, cutting down on the response time could have made a difference, according to the first responder.
“They had a pulse on her for a while,” he said. “They had a 64-year-old woman who was having respiratory trouble. They needed to get to her.”
The victim’s companions moved her from the boat to the dinghy and were trying to administer CPR on the dinghy while bringing the woman to shore, according to the St. John Rescue member.
When the woman was finally able to reach the shore, EMS officials took her into the ambulance, where they pronounced her dead.
Instead of transporting the deceased to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center to await a medical examiner from the Department of Justice, EMS officials left her body on the shore, according to the St. John Rescue member.
“They got her into the back of the ambulance and she was pronounced dead and then they took her out of the ambulance and left her there and drove away,” he said. “That is not the way it should be handled.”
A St. John Rescue officer finally drove out to the beach and transported the deceased to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center around 4:15 p.m., the first responder explained.
When EMS arrived on the scene, officials could have called St. John Rescue for backup, the member added.
“We could have given her CPR or shocked her right on the boat,” he said. “They never called for help. As far as I am concerned they killed that person.”
It seems that 911 operators did not know that the woman was on a boat or that Leinster Bay is one of the farthest beaches from Cruz Bay, information that could possibly have saved her life, the St. John Rescue member added.
“When you make a call, you need to give as much information as possible and tell them exactly where you are,” he said. “You have to say, ‘I’m on a boat in Leinster Bay.’”