St. John Rescue Members Support Leaders on Transporting Deceased; Attorney General Promises Meeting

St. John Rescue founding member Bob Malacarne wants to serve accident victims, injured or dead, and the bereaved families of people who die of natural causes at home on St. John by providing timely transporting of deceased residents — and visitors — to the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center to await transport to the Medical Examiner’s office on St. Thomas.

In August, Malacarne sat on Honeymoon Beach in the V.I. National Park for four (4) hours with the body of a woman tourist who was stricken while snorkeling. The woman had been pronounced dead by Emergency Medical Service personnel who had arrived on the scene when the EMTs ceased their efforts to revive the visitor and left the secluded beach adjacent to the island’s iconic Caneel Bay Resort.

Body in Sun on Honeymoon Beach for Four Hours
“There really was a lady, five or six weeks ago, whose body was lying there in the sun for four hours,” Malacarne said October 11 with palpable discomfort. “I was there at the scene.”

Malacarne said he called everyone he knew to get the St. Thomas Office of the Medical Examiner to transport the body from the isolated resort beach in the V.I. National Park to the Medical Examiner’s Office on St. Thomas.

“I called the Assistant Attorney General; I asked the PD; I asked a (VINP) Ranger; I talked to EMS; to police,” Malacarne recounted.

Four hours after the EMTs left the scene, Medical Examiner staff members arrived by V.I. National Park boat to carry the body of the deceased visitor to the V.I. National Park dock in Red Hook, St. Thomas.

After years of providing the community service at no charge, St. John Rescue doesn’t want to be responsible for the V.I. government’s failure to provide the public function of removing deceased residents to the morgue at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health.

On advice from legal counsel, the volunteer St. John Rescue has stopped filling in for the Office of the Medical Examiner on St. Thomas to provide timely transporting of deceased residents — and visitors — to the MKSCHC to await transport to the ME’s office on St. Thomas — which must send personnel and a vehicle by barge.

Support Agency Needs Official Authority and Protection
“We are just a support agency,” Malacarne said. “We actually have no official authority.”

“We want to continue doing this but our attorney says not to touch it at all,” Malacarne said of St. John Rescue’s years of service to the community.

“We’ve done it as a public service for years,” added Malacarne. “Our members need to be protected.”

Malacarne has been waging a strong public relations campaign to bring the government to the table to craft a document protecting the all-volunteer rescue agency.

The volunteer organization has been warned by its legal counsel that it need to be protected from liability if it is going to be providing the service for St. John residents on behalf of the V.I. government.

Practice began primarily as a public service primarily in cases such as a home death of an elderly or terminally ill resident after government stopped providing reliable service from St. Thomas and families were forced to wait for the Office of the Medical Examiner to send a vehicle over from St. Thomas.
Concerns About Liability
But there are real concerns of liability, Malacarne admits.
“It could be a crime scene,” Malacarne said. “There is a protocol; we insist there is a police officer available.”
Nevertheless, St. John Rescue volunteers have no legal protections.
“We don’t need someone saying, ‘What about (the victim’s) Rolex watch?’” Malacarne added.
“There were a couple of hospice cases where we had to tell them to call 911,” Malacarne said. “They were angry at us because we can’t do anything (until they call 911).”
Now that the long-time, government-red-tape dilemma has seen a tragic situation turn into a V.I. Department of Tourism public relations nightmare — and residents unnecessarily inconvenienced in a time of grief, Malacarne is hoping a meeting with the Deputy Chief Attorney General Wayne Anderson “this month” will result in the necessary legal protections for St. John Rescue volunteers.
Malacarne is concerned the situation will get worse before it gets better:
“They’ll have us taking them (the deceased) to St. Thomas next,” the veteran rescue volunteer said of the government officials.