Ambulance crash leaves Council EMS reeling

Two EMTs are in critical condition, but both are expected to survive.

kterhune@idahostatesman.comOctober 25, 2013 

Council EMS, which boasts a crew of 16 people, doesn't have much of a budget. So Sandra Sova of Mesa and Jon Dickinson of Council are paid for a portion of their shifts and volunteer the rest of the time.

To the pair, it doesn't matter.

"They were just people who cared. That's why they did the job," Council EMS Director Dan Huter said. "That's what it takes to be an EMT. You see (patients) at their worst time, and you do the best you can for each person."

On Tuesday, Sova, 62, and Dickinson, 70, were tending to a patient in the back of an ambulance when it was struck by an oncoming car that had swerved into the wrong lane of U.S. Highway 95 near Indian Valley.

Huter said the rest of his EMS crew is struggling to cope with the accident. Both Sova and Dickinson have worked for Council EMS for about 10 years.

"We're pretty tight-knit here, everybody knows everybody pretty well," he said Thursday.

Because they were tending to the patient when the crash happened, neither was wearing a seatbelt. They were airlifted to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise with serious injuries.

Both Sova and Dickinson suffered head injuries in the crash. Huter said Sova has already undergone several surgeries.

"I think Jon's (injury) has actually gotten better because they took the tube out of him, so the pressure was relieved," he said.

But the man's condition changed from serious to critical after he developed pneumonia — a complication that is not uncommon for older patients, Huter said.

Sova and Dickinson also broke bones and sustained internal damage in the wreck.

"The doctors all felt that they would recover in time," Huter said.

Workers' compensation would cover the medical bills for both EMTs, he said. Parma Ambulance has loaned Council an ambulance to use until it can get a new one or repair the damage.

The ambulance driver, 66-year-old Charles Penniger, was taken to Weiser Memorial Hospital with a foot injury after the crash. He has since been released, Huter said. The Weiser hospital had been the ambulance's destination before the collision.

The driver of the car, 36-year-old Samuel McCartney of Twin Falls, and his passenger, 37-year-old Heather Hetzel of Boise, also went to the hospital in Weiser, but Huter said that they did not appear to be seriously injured. McCartney's nose was bloodied when the airbag deployed, Huter said.

The ambulance patient was not injured in the crash. Police did not release his name or information on his condition, citing patient privacy laws.

Huter praised Penniger for his quick thinking. The ambulance driver saw the car coming toward him and swerved into the guardrail, causing McCartney's car to strike the side of the rig rather than collide head-on.

"Our driver did great evasive action to keep from doing a head-on," Huter said.

Idaho State Police say McCartney was headed north when he swerved into the opposite lane to avoid a car that had slowed to yield to the ambulance.

Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker said McCartney may face charges. The crash was still being investigated Thursday.

Huter expressed gratitude to the Ada County Paramedics, Canyon County Paramedics, the air ambulance crew and Saint Alphonsus.

"All the paramedics and personnel in the Valley have treated our folks amazing," he said. "They've got them rooms to stay in down there and gotten them meals, and that's all because it's a big family."

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Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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