LEWISTON, Maine -- An expert in fire and rescue law said Wednesday the public should wait until an investigation into the death of skier David Morse is finished before rushing to judgment about his controversial case.
The words of caution by Curt Varone -- a longtime firefighter, lawyer and author who is familiar with the Carrabassett Valley area - - came on a day when the state medical examiner's office released the official cause of death for Morse.
Mark Belserene, administrator of the medical examiner's office, said Morse, 41, of Nova Scotia died of chest trauma, a diagnosis that doesn't come as unexpected in the case. Belserene said chest trauma is generally defined as injuries to an individual's ribs or the organs behind them, unlike the lower torso, which is an individual's abdomen.
Morse hit a tree on the Lower Timberline Trail on Sugarloaf Mountain last Thursday afternoon, suffering severe injuries, although he was conscious and alert when Ski Patrol reached him. Morse's widow, nurse practitioner Dana Morse, since has said emergency medical responders were slow to treat for internal bleeding -- not initially listening to his chest or starting an IV - - and the NorthStar ambulance driver left her on the side of the road on the way to the hospital after she asked to hold her dying husband's hand.
Dana Morse's account of what she called a "comedy of horrors" -- f irst published by the Halifax-based newspaper The Chronicle Herald -- triggered public intrigue and an internal investigation by Franklin Community Health Network, the group that owns the ambulance service and the Farmington hospital it was taking Morse to.
Ralph Johnson, chief information officer for the Franklin Community Health Network, and David Robie, executive director of NorthStar, have not returned calls or emails by the Bangor Daily News. Jill Gray, the network's community relations manager, responded to an initial BDN email with a prepared statement Tuesday saying it "would be premature for us to respond to allegations reported by the press" until the group is finished with its internal probe.
Curt Varone is a former Providence, R.I., firefighter, a lawyer licensed to practice in Rhode Island and Maine, and author of two books about fire and rescue law. He is a legal columnist for Firehouse magazine and for his personal website, FireLawBlog.com, where he posted a column this week about the Morse case.
"We've got to get down to the facts about what happened," Varone told the BDN in a Wednesday evening telephone interview. "Did the transporting EMS unit en route to a hospital leave a patient's family member by the side of the road? If that did happen, what were the grounds? As a fire service leader, I'm struggling to come up with grounds to justify that. I'm not saying they didn't have grounds, but we'd need to know what those grounds were."
Varone said before the public knows what the hospital's internal review finds, "it's not helpful to speculate." But he said it will be important for the hospital to release its findings openly, a step medical facilities are not often required to take.
"This is something that has captured the public's attention, and the hospital, just like any other entity, has an obligation to tell the public, 'This is what happened -- we did an investigation and, you might not like what happened, but here are the results,'" Varone said.
Dana Morse told the BDN on Tuesday she believes the hospital probe will reveal that the details published in The Chronicle Herald story "are not even touching the surface."
Franklin Community Health Network officials have said they first learned about Dana Morse's complaints through calls from reporters.
Varone said the widow's story leaves the hospital group and public facing many difficult questions.
"How could a couple of medics have gone through this ordeal -- especially if it happened the way the widow said it happened -- and not report it to their supervisors?" he said.