Three people are dead following an ambulance crash in Bellwood, IL. Further investigation suggests that the ambulance driver should not have been licensed as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) because he misrepresented his felony record.
A Fiery Crash in the West Suburbs
On March 31, 2018, at 3:48 p.m., an ambulance went off the road and crashed into a building at the intersection of Washington Blvd. and 28th Ave., according to the Bellwood Police and the west suburban village’s mayor. The ambulance then burst into flames.
The driver of the ambulance, 51-year-old James Wesley, was killed upon impact from multiple blunt force injuries sustained in the ambulance crash. According to an autopsy by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, Wesley had no acute medical conditions that contributed to his death, which was ruled an accident. Toxicology test results are forthcoming.
Wesley was driving the vehicle for Excel Ambulance Service, where he had reportedly worked as an EMT and as the company’s EMS (Emergency Medical Services) coordinator for the past decade. Also killed in the ambulance crash were 51-year-old Prentis Williams, his fellow EMT, and Larry Marshal, Jr., a 48-year-old patient who had been using the ambulance service to travel to and from dialysis treatment in the wake of a recent surgery.
The case remains “an open criminal investigation” by the Bellwood and Illinois State Police Departments. However, police officials noted that “there were no skid marks prior to the ambulance colliding with the building,” suggesting that Wesley did not attempt to slow down before the ambulance crash.
Should the Driver Have Been Licensed?
While the cause of the ambulance crash has not yet been determined, subsequent investigation into the driver’s criminal history raises doubts about whether he should have had his EMT license at all.
An ABC7 I-Team investigation found several felony convictions and incarcerations for James Wesley, as well as an outstanding civil suit for a serious traffic accident that may have been relevant to his work as a driver.
In March 2010, Wesley was driving a friend’s car when he collided with another motorist’s vehicle at the intersection of 76th St. and Cornell Ave. According to the police report, Wesley caused the crash by pulling into an intersection while traffic was already moving through it.
A subsequent lawsuit was filed by the insurance company of the victim, which alleged that Wesley was negligent and careless and may have been exceeding the speed limit. The lawsuit was still in dispute at the time of the recent ambulance crash.
Wesley also lost his driver’s license after the 2010 accident, and he did not regain it until 2013, after which he was required by law to carry “high risk” auto insurance.
Additionally, Wesley had multiple felonies on his record, dating from 1992 to 2007, including drug possession, criminal damage to property, and theft, for which he served time in both Cook County Jail and Illinois State Prison. He was also sentenced to participate in a drug treatment program in 1993.
How are the felonies relevant to the recent ambulance crash? Under Illinois law, “all applicants for any license, permit, or certification under the Act shall fully disclose any and all felony convictions in writing to the Department at the time of initial application or renewal. Failure to disclose all felony convictions on an application submitted to the Department shall be grounds for license denial or revocation.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) licenses EMTs working in the state. Following the crash, the IDPH found that Wesley had not informed the department of his felony convictions when he renewed his EMT license in 2015. By law, any applicant who has been convicted of a felony is required to inform the IDPH and attach a statement describing the incident, which the IDPH will then review in order to make a determination on whether or not to issue or renew a license. While felony convictions do not automatically lead to a denial by the IDPH, failure to disclose them, “under penalties of perjury,” will result in immediate revocation.
Because Wesley had not reported his felonies to the IDPH, the department might not have been able to make a fair assessment of whether he was qualified for an EMT license. Regardless, because he perjured himself, Wesley should not have had his EMT license at the time of this incident, which would likely have prevented him from driving the ambulance at the center of the deadly crash.
Ambulance Crash Statistics
Perhaps ironically, since they are vehicles specifically designated to provide necessary and sometimes even lifesaving medical care, ambulances crash at a troubling rate in this country.
In a 2015 study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uncovered the following statistics:
- There are an average of 4,500 ambulance crashes each year across the United States.
- 34 percent of these crashes result in injuries.
- An average of 1,500 ambulance crashes per year result in nonfatal injuries.
- 46 percent of these nonfatal injuries occur to people inside the ambulances themselves, while the remainder occur to people outside of them.
- There are an average of 29 fatal ambulance crashes annually, resulting in a yearly average of 33 deaths.
- One-fourth of these fatalities occur inside the ambulances themselves, while the majority occur in other vehicles involved in an ambulance crash.
Illinois Wrongful Death Act
Wrongful death actions in the state of Illinois are governed by the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, which holds that “Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default, and the act, neglect, or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, then and in every such case the person who or company or corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as amount in law to felony.”
Chicago Wrongful Death Lawyers
Therefore, when a person is killed in the state due to the misconduct of others, the families and heirs of the deceased may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit against those who may have been responsible for the death.
With more than $2 BILLION successfully recovered for our clients, the Chicago wrongful death lawyers at GWC Injury Lawyers can provide the experience and determination you need to fight for the justice that you deserve.
If a loved one has been killed because of somebody else’s negligence, please contact GWC for a free legal consultation with one of our attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.