Del Mar High School's principal is under fire after blocking an ambulance from driving onto the school's track to reach a 14-year-old running back who suffered a concussion during a football game.
Emergency workers had to haul a gurney 75 yards down field to where Keanu Gallardo lay after suffering a blow to his neck and helmet near the end of Del Mar's frosh-soph game on Oct. 29.
The boy's mother, Josephine Amaya, is livid and still waiting for a formal apology from the school and the Campbell Union High School District. She said her son has since suffered from headaches and neck pain and is being watched for potential brain damage.
It isn't clear whether the delay had any impact on Keanu's health, but medical experts say sometimes every second counts when a player, especially a teenager, is crumpled on the field with a head injury.
"I'm aghast at the decision that was made," said Matthew Dean, a Campbell Union High School board member. "The answer is real simple. A field is replaceable. A child's life is not."
Principal Liz Seabury said Monday she was only following orders.
"I was told not to let vehicles onto the field," she said.
When asked about the incident on Monday, Superintendent Rhonda Farber of the Campbell Union High School District first denied that the ambulance was blocked from entering the sunken field. Her spokesman, Terry Peluso, later blamed Seabury, a new principal. He said the district banned motorized vehicles when the field was remodeled four years ago, "but we never meant emergency vehicles."
The Del Mar Dons were trailing Prospect 20-6 with minutes to go. Keanu dashed 10 yards when another player's helmet slammed into his neck. As he went down, he was hit again, this time on his helmet, witnesses said.
"Last I remember, I was getting the ball then starting to run," the 5-foot-5 Keanu said. "I don't remember getting hit. I don't remember getting up."
He walked to the sidelines, where Coach Darnell Avery recognized a problem and took him out of the game. The Dons' athletic trainer stabilized his neck and called 9-1-1. When firefighter paramedics arrived, they parked at a gate and ran onto the field to treat Keanu. They reported him awake and able to move his body. Then they waited for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. And waited.
But Seabury had stopped the AMR ambulance, which arrived at the other side of the field from where Keanu was being treated. Seabury told them "heavy equipment" was not allowed on the track or field.
So ambulance paramedics unloaded a gurney and pushed it 75 yards to where Keanu lay, strapped him on and rolled it back to the waiting vehicle. It's unclear how long that delayed his trip to the hospital.
A report by the San Jose Fire Department confirmed that Seabury stopped the ambulance after an off-duty police officer directed the driver toward Keanu.
Amaya, accompanying her son to the ambulance, recalled hearing agitated firefighters yelling at the principal about her decision.
Once Amaya emerged from shock and panic over her son's injury, she said she felt incredulous. "How could you put a field above a human life?" she asked.
Seabury said Monday that her conversation with the firefighter was civil. She said there was a 20-minute delay in picking up Keanu, but said that was because the ambulance didn't arrive immediately.
When it did, parent Renee Figueira couldn't believe what happened. "I could see the ambulance," said Figueira, who had run to help and alerted security guards at the game to watch for the arrival of the ambulance. "I was thinking, are you kidding, what is taking so long?"
She said paramedics attending to Keanu were "clearly agitated and angry" about the delay.
Firefighters sometimes decide not to drive their trucks, which weigh as much as 32,000 pounds, where they can damage surfaces, said Capt. Chuck Rangel, though he said fire trucks were not denied access that night. AMR ambulance did not return phone calls seeking comment about their driver being blocked.
Last year, when San Jose High player Matt Blea suffered a skull fracture while playing rival Lincoln High, the responding fire engine was too big to drive onto the field. So paramedics transferred a 6-foot-long spinal board, defibrillator and other medical equipment to a waiting golf cart, and drove the cart to reach Matt.
Keanu returned to school briefly after the injury, but then pain and confusion forced him to stay home for several days, his mother said.
She e-mailed her concerns about the principal blocking the ambulance to the Campbell Union administration and board.
Farber responded that "all schools and appropriate staff will be reminded to allow emergency vehicles access to whatever area of campus they deem necessary. I sincerely regret any worry and upset that you were caused on that evening and hope your son is doing well."
Amaya said she's not complaining about the injury to her 132-pound son. "It's our responsibility. That's what happens in football." But she's upset about the district response, and wants the principal reprimanded and the district to ensure this doesn't happen again.
Figueira, whose freshman daughter plays field hockey, agreed. "I'm pretty sure all the parents who sign the waiver to play sports do not know that their child can be denied timely medical attention."