Four Southfield, Michigan, firefighters are on paid administrative leave after a 20-year-old woman they pronounced dead was found breathing at a Detroit funeral home, according to officials.
The woman, identified as Timisha Beauchamp by Geoffrey Fieger, her family’s attorney, has cerebral palsy and is hospitalized in critical condition; she’s in the ICU on a respirator, Fieger said.
Fieger earlier told CNN affiliate WXYZ, “It’s one of people’s worst nightmares to imagine having an ambulance called and instead, sending you off to a funeral home in a body bag. The funeral home unzipping the body bag, literally… and see her alive with her eyes open.”
Southfield’s Fire Chief Johnny Menifee says what happened to Beauchamp is “unsettling,” but defended his paramedics’ response, pointing out that “there’s evidence out there that this sort of thing has happened before,” referring to other situations where people are discovered to be alive after being pronounced dead.
What the fire department says happened
Menifee says paramedics of the Southfield Fire Dept. responded to a 911 call about an unconscious woman. They arrived at the home at 7:34 a.m. “to find an unresponsive, non-breathing female.” Lifesaving procedures and aid were initiated and continued for approximately 30 minutes in an effort to save Beauchamp’s life, during which time the Southfield Police Department also arrived on scene.
Menifee said no signs of life were found, and at 8:09 a.m. the Southfield Fire Department contacted a local hospital and reported their findings to a physician.
At one point, while fire department personnel were clearing the scene, a family member approached paramedics and said they heard Beauchamp breathing, Menifee said. They “immediately grabbed their equipment and went in and reassessed her,” but “at no time did they find her breathing,” Menifee said.
Then, after the firefighters went to back their vehicle again, a family member told a Southfield police officer that they thought they felt a heartbeat, Menifee said. Beauchamp was reassessed again, and for the third time they did not detect any signs of life, Menifee said.
Fieger told CNN affiliate WXYZ that the families’ concerns “did not change (paramedics’) opinion as to the fact that they felt she was dead.”
Beauchamp was pronounced dead by a local emergency department physician based upon medical information provided by first responders on the scene, according to a statement from the fire department on Monday.
Southfield Police Dept. also reported their findings to the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office, and the 20-year-old was transported to James H. Cole Home for Funerals where staff made the startling discovery.
Menifee denies that Beauchamp’s health condition or race resulted in any sort of mistreatment and defended his firefighters, who he says “feel terrible” about what happened. Menifee did not identify the firefighters but said two are firefighter/paramedics — one a lieutenant with 18 years of experience, the other has seven years of experience. The other two are firefighter/basic EMTs — one with a little over two years of experience and the other has six months of experience, Menifee said.
Menifee also pushed back on Fieger’s characterization of the events, noting it is “absolutely untrue” that Beauchamp was placed in a body bag by his paramedics. “It is not part of our standard operating procedures nor do we carry that equipment,” Menifee said.
The fire chief said that paramedics left Beauchamp “in care of the family to call the funeral home of their choosing.”
Oakland County Medical Control is investigating the incident and will report their findings to state officials at the state’s Bureau of EMS, Trauma and Preparedness, according to Menifee.