HIALEAH (CBSMiami) – Maria Morales died while waiting for help to arrive last week in Hialeah. The help was delayed because an ambulance wouldn’t start.
Morales, a 78 year-old mother and grandmother, was run over as she crossed LeJeune Road after getting off a bus on her way to dinner with family Tuesday evening.
“I saw her laying on the ground, trying to get up, lifting her head,” said witness Pablo Martin. “Individuals were telling her to calm down because they were calling 911.”
Martin said numerous police units arrived on the scene and officers and good Samaritans comforted the victim, urging her to lie still, telling her that rescue was on the way.
“It seemed like an eternity before they got there,” Martin said.
In fire-rescue terms it was an eternity before medics arrived from station number four, the nearest fire station, .
In response to a public records request from CBS4 News, city officials confirmed rescuers were dispatched to the accident at 6:06 p.m., but did not arrive until 6:14 p.m., eight minutes later. That’s about 3 minutes longer than would be expected in a rescue of this type.
Rescuers were delayed because a crew from station four loaded into a rescue unit that would not start.
“The starter wasn’t catching, it wouldn’t turn over,” said a fire department source close to the incident.
Only one crew ,as is always the case, was working at station four. The crew had to unload from the malfunctioning rescue unit and into a fire truck, delaying their departure by more than three minutes, according to Hialeah firefighters’ union President, Mario Pico.
“We should have been there in four or five minutes at the most,” Pico told CBS4’s Gary Nelson. “The city does a questionable job of maintaining our equipment.”
Maria Morales’ family was devastated by her death and grateful that the hit and run suspect, 54 year old Manuel Fernandez, was caught with the help of citizens who recognized his car from news reports. But the family was further heartbroken to learn of the delay in rescue reaching their mother’s side.
“This is not good. They must fix this,” Morales’ son, Andres Pena, said Monday. “My mother might have lived.”
Would saving those three minutes have helped? The fire department source familiar with the accident said it was virtually impossible that Maria Morales could have been saved; her injuries were too severe. The source added, however, that equipment failures – particularly with spare, back-up trucks and rescue units – are common.
“In many cases, it could mean the difference between life and death,” the source said.
The equipment failure last weeks comes after the city in October said it may have to lay off scores of firefighters and even close stations to close budget shortfalls. Firefighters have since agreed to concessions that should avoid the layoffs and closures.
Pablo Martin, who watched Maria Morales die last Tuesday night, said the slow response of fire/rescue due to a broken down ambulance has left him incredulous.
“We pay taxes for these things to work,” Martin said. “My pick-up truck is 25 years old and it starts every time I turn the key.”
Martin said he worries now for his wife and children and himself.
“What if something like this were to happen to me? What kind of attention would I get? Would I be on the side of the road, waiting to die?”
CBS4 requests for comment from Hialeah’s fire chief and mayor were not immediately answered.