Moreno Valley police are investigating whether a woman died from a heart attack or from injuries suffered in an ambulance crash late Wednesday night. Annie Layton, 47, was being taken to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest.
The ambulance was headed south on Pigeon Pass Road when it went through a red light at the intersection of Ironwood Avenue and was hit by a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, according to Moreno Valley police Lt. Tim Morin.
A paramedic and two firefighters were in the back of the ambulance, working to resuscitate Layton, when the crash caused the ambulance to flip onto its side, Morin said. Layton was pronounced dead in the back of the ambulance following the 10:45 p.m. collision. Moreno Valley traffic investigators are waiting for the official coroner's report to determine a cause of death. Layton had a history of heart problems, Morin said. An autopsy was conducted Thursday, but coroner's officials said additional testing was needed. The coroner's report is likely to be finished next week, Morin said. "The question is: Was she deceased prior to the accident or did the accident cause her demise?" Morin said.
Police do not believe alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash, and no one was arrested or cited. The driver of the Monte Carlo was identified as Dushunte Davis, 22, of Moreno Valley. According to witnesses, the ambulance had a red light when it entered the intersection with lights and sirens. Police found evidence that Davis attempted to brake prior to the collision.
Three additional ambulances were called to the scene Wednesday night to transport Davis, the two paramedics and the two firefighters to a nearby hospital. The two paramedics and Davis suffered minor injuries. The two firefighters suffered moderate injuries but were released from the hospital Thursday morning. One of the firefighters is expected to miss a week of work. The other is expected to miss one to two months. Neither firefighter was identified.
According to the state vehicle code, emergency vehicles are required to stop at red lights, control traffic and proceed with caution. "Lights and sirens are not carte blanche to drive crazy, but we're not determining anyone was guilty," Morin said. "Drivers also have the responsibility to yield to emergency traffic."
The ambulance was operated by American Medical Response, a private company that has a contract with Riverside County. AMR spokesman Jason Sorrick said ambulance drivers face new challenges with sound-resistant vehicles and more distractions, such as texting or vehicle accessories.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is developing an ambulance crash survivability improvement plan that would improve conditions for workers in ambulances, said Jim Green, a Safety Engineer for the organization. The organization is a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Paramedics often work in the back of ambulances without seat belts, giving them a greater risk of injury, Green said.
The organization could not say exactly how often ambulance crashes occur. A 2002 study by the CDC listed 82 fatalities involving ambulances since 1991. "It happens frequent enough that it got our attention," Green said. "An ambulance faces all the hazards on the road, but an ambulance is a moving work environment."