Bellwood Ambulance Crash Leads To Tougher State Regulations

Sunday, November 4, 2018 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: The scene of a deadly ambulance crash that happened in March 2017 in Bellwood. The crash has prompted state officials to get tougher about giving out licenses to emergency medical service providers. | File/Screenshot of ABC7 report 

A fatal ambulance crash that happened last year in Bellwood is still reverberating, with state officials announcing last week that they will take steps to toughen regulations related to the issuance of licenses for emergency medical services.

The announcement comes in the wake of an ABC7 I-Team investigative report that showed that the emergency medical technician driving the ambulance had cocaine in his system and a lengthy criminal and drug history.

The investigation also revealed that the state’s licensing system for emergency medical services was rife with regulatory loopholes.

On Oct. 30, the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Emergency Medical Services division released a memo “reminding ambulance workers that they are required to report all felony convictions when applying for an EMS license or renewing a license,” the I-Team reports.

The memo states that while a felony conviction “in and of itself, is not an automatic disqualifier or cause for revocation,” the failure “to disclose any felony conviction(s) to IDPH on an application or within seven days of conviction after licensure is grounds for license denial or revocation.”

The I-Team stated that the state “currently relies on self-disclosure and does not do background checks” as part of its licensing process.

Following the I-Team’s investigation, IDPH recently announced that it plans to strengthen the licensing system, with the head of the department telling ABC7 investigators that “the honor system loophole would be closed under new legislation his agency is drafting as a result of the ongoing I-Team reports.”

According to the memo, the department “will be proposing mandatory background checks for all individual EMS applicants and licensees. If IDPH discovers that any applicant or existing licensee has failed to properly disclose any felony conviction(s) to IDPH as required by 77 Ill Adm. Code 515.190, IDPH will begin formal action to suspend or revoke the IDPH issued license(s).”

On March 31, 2017, an ambulance crashed into the G.J. Nikolas building at 28th Avenue and Washington Boulevard in Bellwood, killing all three passengers in the vehicle.

The driver, 51-year-old EMT James Wesley, was killed immediately. Two other passengers — Larry Marshall Jr., 48, and Prentis Williams, 50 — were also killed.

Marshall Jr. was being driven home from a dialysis treatment at the time of the crash. The ambulance was owned by the Excel ambulance company, a private firm based in South Elgin.

The investigation showed that Wesley spent time in both state prison and the Cook County Jail for felony crimes and required to participate in a drug treatment program in 1993.

And in 2010, the I-Team reported, “Wesley was driving a friend’s car when he collided with another motorist’s vehicle at the intersection of 76th and Cornell on Chicago’s South Side. Police records show Wesley caused the accident by pulling into an intersection as traffic moved through-with the right-of-way. ”

According to the I-Team, a “civil suit filed by the victim’s insurance company states that Wesley was careless and negligent and may have been speeding.” The suit was “still in dispute” at the time of the 2017 crash.

The I-Team investigation showed that Wesley did not reveal his priors and that “without a background check the state never knew he was a drug felon.”

Chris Vandenberg, the president of the Illinois State Ambulance Association who owns three ambulance companies, told the I-Team that “many employers do the best they can to make sure their EMS employees are properly licensed.”

Although “crashes such as the one in Bellwood are rare,” they nonetheless “also pointed to a lack of state oversight. Vandenberg said the burden of ensuring a safe workforce ends up on the employers, who may do background checks and random drug testing at their own expense.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are around 4,500 ambulance crashes in the country each year, with an average of 33 fatalities.

“In Illinois the latest state figures reveal ambulance accidents have nearly doubled in the past five years,” the I-Team reported. VFP 

To read more ABC7 I-Team coverage, click here and here.  

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