All James C. Copeland Jr. says he wanted was a tree cleared from his land. Now the Blaine city alderman is facing potential jail time because authorities say he interfered with EMS workers and trespassed on county property after a logging injury on his land last month.
Copeland, who is fighting the allegations, is set for trial this spring in the Dec. 9 incident that resulted in his arrest, disgruntled Grainger County paramedics and what a Copeland friend says was an unnecessary $6,000 helicopter ride.
It all started about 3 p.m. on Copeland's 40 acres off Jones Landing Way, a paved dead-end road that runs off Ritzview Road in Blaine. At Copeland's request, friend Mike Mostella was removing a fallen 75-foot redwood from the property. Just as he started work, a portion of the tree rolled onto his legs. For three hours he lay in freezing temperatures pinned under the giant log, his cell phone just 15 feet away in his truck. Using his long-sleeve thermal shirt, his belt buckle, a stick and a rock, he fashioned a contraption that enabled him to pull his chainsaw towards him, Mostella said. He sawed his way out, then crawled to the truck. His phone was ringing. It was his wife, Kayla, he said. He told her to call for help. She didn't know the address. So she called her brother Shawn Boling, who called Copeland. He dialed 911.
Grainger County 911 Director Randy Holt said that during the 6:39 p.m. call Copeland said a man had been injured on his property. He told a dispatcher his land was off Jones Landing Way. But because his property did not have a building on it, Copeland told her that it did not have an address. The dispatcher said she needed an approximate location, Holt said. Still Copeland could not give one. "All he had to say was a tenth of a mile, a mile, or 200 feet from here or there and we could have figured it out," Holt said. Instead, Holt said, Copeland called the dispatcher stupid, then hung up.
Meanwhile, Mostella's brother-in-law had arrived at the property to help. He drove Mostella to a closed restaurant at the intersection of Rutledge Pike and Ritzview Road. Copeland, who was there, flagged an ambulance down, Mostella said. "The paramedic diagnosed me with hypothermia," Mostella said. "He said they were going to transport me by helicopter to UT hospital." But Copeland wanted to go by ambulance. The paramedic said no, according to the Mostellas. When his wife also asked that he be taken by ambulance, the paramedic became rude with her, according to Mostella and Copeland.
An affidavit of complaint, signed by paramedic James Saylor, alleges that while EMS was treating Mostella, Copeland became agitated, began cursing and threatened EMS and fire department personnel. Copeland denies cursing. Eventually,Mostella'swife drove to the hospital. It took her 20 minutes, she said. Her husband, she added, did not arrive until an hour later by helicopter.
Doctors treated him for conditions including hypothermia and muscle deterioration. His medical bills total about $15,000 - $6,000 of which, he said, stems from the helicopter ride. "If an adult patient is coherent and capable of making an informed decision, the patient has the right to choose their mode of transportation, under state rules and regulations on patient rights," said Dennis Rowe, market general manager for Rural/Metro Knox County. "Was that paramedic trying to do what's best for the patient? Probably, but that patient still has that right. But in potential life-or-death situations the paramedic must convey to the patient the best possible means of transportation."
At about 8 p.m. that same day, Copeland visited the EMS station, "blocked ambulances" then threatened personnel with their jobs, according to another affidavit of complaint signed by EMS director David Yankee. The Grainger County Sheriff's Department later issued warrants for Copeland's arrest for interfering with medical personnel and criminal trespassing. He turned himself in the next morning, was booked into the Grainger County Jail and posted a $100 bond.
On Wednesday, Yankee said he could not comment on Copeland's case. When asked by phone to comment on general policies regarding transportation, he hung up. Assistant District Attorney General Steve Hawkins, who is handling the case, said he has not yet had a chance to formally review it.
Copeland's trial is set for April 15.