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Response Time Questioned in Atlanta Child's Death

ATLANTA -- When seventh-grader Jeremy Nelson collapsed on the bench Saturday night in the middle of a Gwinnett Basketball League all-star game, Covington gastroenterologist Steven McIntosh rushed to his side.

Using a defibrillator kept among first-aid equipment at the Suwanee Sports Academy, McIntosh detected a heart rhythm. "(The defibrillator) said do not shock," the doctor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Some defibrillators monitor the patient's heart rate and automatically choose the correct jolt of electricity that may be needed.

As Jeremy drifted into and out of consciousness, his parents, Herbert and Annette Nelson, hovered over him. McIntosh recalled the anguished prayers of the father that reverberated through the silenced arena as Annette Nelson held her 12-year-old son's hand.

"Fight, Jeremy, fight," she implored as the crowd of roughly 200 people looked on.

There was little more McIntosh could do but wait for paramedics.

"It felt like an eternity," he said. "I've never felt so helpless."

Jeremy's coach, Bryan Larrieu, said he felt certain at least 30 minutes passed before paramedics arrived, but officers with Gwinnett County and the Suwanee Police Department say they each arrived within minutes of the first 911 call, recorded at 8:57:09.

Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services spokesman Capt. Tommy Rutledge said an engine with two emergency medical technicians and a paramedic arrived at 9:05:36 p.m. At 9:10:37 p.m., a medic unit that was returning from a local hospital arrived at the sports academy, Rutledge said.

In the meantime Jeremy's condition had worsened. About five minutes after he collapsed, he rolled over and vomited, McIntosh said.

"My chest hurts," he told the doctor.

By then Jeremy had turned cold and clammy. McIntosh said that when Suwanee police got to the gym --- at 9:04:39 p.m., according to spokesman Captain Clyde Byers --- they asked whether paramedics should be called.

"I would've thought one was on the way based on the information given to 911," McIntosh said.

When paramedics arrived they were "methodical," he said. Larrieu agreed, adding "there was no sense of urgency."

Rutledge told the AJC, "As with any situation, emergency personnel at the scene performed their duties with dedication and determination." He said Jeremy was en route to Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville at 9:17:18 --- 20 minutes and 9 seconds after the initial 911 call.

"He had a heart rate when he left the facility," McIntosh said.

Gwinnett County's Chief Forensic Investigator Ted Bailey said an autopsy completed Monday showed that Jeremy had pulmonary edema, or fluid in his lungs. He said further tests will be conducted to determine how he developed that condition.

Byers, the Suwanee police captain, said he understands the perceptions about the 911 response time, but said it was within his department's average response time of around three minutes for emergencies.

"All I can say is there were no delays, and according to our dispatch, none from the fire (department) either. A lot of it has to do with perception," he said.

"When you are in a stress like that, time slows down for you. A minute could seem like five minutes, but I can't ask an officer to get there faster than 2:21."

"There wasn't the delay people are saying," Byers said.

Meanwhile, the death of the promising 6-foot forward has devastated teammates who watched the tragedy unfold.

"It's one thing for a kid that age to have a peer die," Larrieu said. "It's another thing to see it."

Jeremy, said his coach, was the team's igniter.

"He always came with energy, always worked hard on both ends of the court," said Larrieu, who had coached the Buford Middle School student for four years.

He hailed from a family of skilled basketball players. Twin sister Jessica also plays for Buford's seventh-grade team while older sister Kristina, a senior, recently signed to play with Notre Dame.

"He was having a heck of a game when he pulled up from missing a shot," Larrieu said. "We pulled him out to get some rest; eight seconds later, he was in and out of consciousness."

On its website, the Gwinnett Basketball League issued a statement of condolences and canceled Monday's scheduled seventh-grade games.

Larrieu said funeral arrangements are pending for the kid he considered "another son."

"He always had a good spirit," Jeremy's coach said. "He was a joy to be around."


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