Ambulances & Vehicle Ops, News, Operations, Patient Care

EMT Not Charged in Death; But faces lewd act count in Berkeley

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Charleston County ambulance driver who was traveling at more than twice the speed limit in the oncoming lane when he struck another vehicle and killed a College of Charleston student March 25 won’t be charged with a crime, authorities announced Tuesday.

The emergency medical technician, Gerald Stewart, was traveling about 52 mph near the busy downtown campus when his ambulance slammed into a car driven by Emily J. Salisbury, a senior biology major from West Virginia.

Salisbury, 22, pulled into the ambulance’s path as it sped toward an emergency call. She later died of head injuries.

While Stewart won’t face criminal charges in the ambulance wreck, he faces criminal charges in an unrelated case. Berkeley County sheriff’s deputies arrested Stewart on Friday on a charge of committing a lewd act on a child under 16. Charleston County subsequently placed Stewart on administrative leave from his job.

The ambulance’s speed and other information were recorded on the emergency vehicle’s “black box” recorder. Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon made details from the box data public Tuesday.

The box showed that the ambulance was traveling at 51.6 mph at the time of impact and that its emergency lights and siren were activated. The posted speed limit in the area where the accident occurred is 25 mph.

County policy allows ambulances responding to emergencies to exceed posted speed limits by no more than 10 mph, and it permits driving against the flow of traffic. The policy places a heavy burden on ambulance drivers to ensure the safety of other motorists and pedestrians.

“We did not feel there was a case of reckless negligence on the part of the driver,” Cannon said. “He did not violate any laws to the extent that he should be charged criminally.”

Cannon made the announcement at an afternoon press conference, where he was joined by Solicitor Scarlett Wilson.

Salisburywas driving east on Calhoun Street, waiting to make a left turn onto Pitt Street at 9:15 a.m. The ambulance was headed east to help an unconscious person on Laurens Street, a couple blocks south of Calhoun near East Bay Street.

As the ambulance approached Salisbury’s car on the busy two-lane road, it pulled around traffic and drove into the oncoming lanes, officials said. It slammed into the driver’s door on Salisbury’s car as she made her turn.

Salisbury’s father, Howard Salisbury, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he didn’t think criminal charges were warranted in his daughter’s death. “We have never felt that criminal prosecution of any kind was appropriate,” he said.

Stewart’s speed was a “violation” of county policy and the county took administrative action against him, Charleston County public information officer Jennie Davis wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. She did not return a call seeking clarification about what that action was.

Davishad previously said that the county is reviewing its emergency vehicle driving policy in light of the accident. The county also has asked the International Association of EMS Chief Officers to review the county’s EMS driving policies, Davis said.

Stewart’s driving record with the Department of Motor Vehicles shows two vehicle accidents in 2005, a violation for changing lanes improperly in 2006 and two speeding tickets in 2003.

Stewart was convicted of careless operation of a motor vehicle and resisting arrest in July 2002, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.

Davissaid the county was aware of the 2002 traffic violation before hiring Stewart.

Cannon said such a charge wouldn’t preclude someone from employment with the county, including the deputies he hires.

Charleston County officials would not have known of the alleged incident in Berkeley County, said Dan Moon, public information officer for the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office.

Moon said Stewart is accused of inappropriately touching the chest of an 8-year-old girl at his Summerville home in November 2007. But he was only recently arrested because authorities wanted to ensure the case was airtight. “On a charge like this, you want to have all your Ps and Qs together. You’re about to ruin a man’s reputation.”

Reach Ron Menchaca at [email protected]or 937-572