Monday, July 14, 2014
Bucks County coroner: Wear, vehicle age led to body mishap
Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2014
The Bucks County Coroner’s transport truck that malfunctioned Friday, resulting in a body strapped to a gurney falling out and into traffic, was to be taken out of service later this month and replaced with a new vehicle, the coroner said.
“Never in all my years would I have thought we’d be talking about something like this,” Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell said Sunday.
The 2002 Chevrolet pickup truck with a utility cap and 80,000 miles on the odometer was immediately retired following the incident, which occurred around noon on Street Road, east of Bustleton Pike and by the Bucks Crossing Shopping Center in Lower Southampton, Campbell said. The vehicle was one of two used to transport bodies, he said.
Normally, the transport vehicle's body compartment is accessible only through a door that's secured with a lock and key, but a two-part mechanical malfunction occurred that Campbell attributed to the vehicle's overall age and its accumulated wear and tear.
First, the locking mechanism securing the gurney on which the body was secured had come loose, he said. The unsecured gurney then struck the back of the vehicle and a hatchback handle that had been disabled in an aftermarket fix when the vehicle was bought, Campbell said.
But over time, the screws securing the hatchback handle preventing its use also became worn, Campbell said. When the gurney struck the handle, the hatchback opened, he said. Once the door was open, a small ramp, similar to what an ambulance uses, was engaged and the gurney slipped out of the vehicle and onto the road.
The deputy coroner operating the vehicle, who was not identified, immediately noticed a flash of light in the rear view mirror and realized what had happened, Campbell said. She pulled into the nearest parking lot and notified the coroner’s office at 12:04 p.m. he said.
Six minutes later, the deputy called to say the body had been secured, he said.
No damage occurred to the body, a young woman who died of an apparent drug overdose and was headed to the county morgue in Warminster, Campbell said. The woman was inside a body bag that was wrapped in a sheet.
The deputy coroner notified the family of the incident, Campbell said.
A bystander, Jerry Bradley, assisted the deputy coroner with removing the gurney from the highway. In an interview Saturday night, Bradley said that he noticed the gurney in the four-lane highway after pulling out of a shopping center at the intersection.
The section of Street Road is under construction and cars were driving around the stretcher, he said.
After Bradley got out of his car, approached the stretcher and realized what had happened, he said he noticed the deputy coroner walking down Street Road from the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. Bradley said he heard the woman on the cellphone tell someone the rear door had popped open, he said.
A photo of the gurney sitting in traffic that Bradley snapped at the scene and posted on his Facebook page has been shared 2,086 times as of Sunday afternoon, according to the page. The story detailing what happened has gone viral.
The vehicle undergoes routine maintenance annually, Campbell said. It had no previous mechanical problems as far as he knows and this incident is a first for the county and his office, he added.
The coroner’s office is awaiting the delivery of its new transport vehicle, which is expected to arrive in a few weeks at the latest, Campbell said.
A county spokesman issued a statement Saturday night that said steps would be taken to assure that such a malfunction is never repeated.
On Sunday, Campbell repeated that promise, saying that his office immediately would put into effect new “double and triple” checks on its transport vehicles.
“It was a horrible thing,” Campbell added. “I can’t tell you how upset I was. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t make this up.”