A Texas woman who was declared dead in a car crash and found to be alive after the emergency medical crew left the scene has since died of her injuries, but San Antonio emergency officials deny they did anything wrong.
Erica Smith, 23, was left unattended in freezing temperatures with a yellow tarp draped over her body for up to two hours early Sunday morning after she was declared dead by the ambulance crew. The two crew members worked instead on two other people who were injured in the car crash before 4 a.m. Those victims were both rushed to a hospital.
Smith, a student at Southwest Texas State University, was discovered to be alive about 6 a.m.by an official from the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office and the ambulance crew was summoned back to the crash site, according to Henry Valadez, a San Antonio newsman who shot footage at the crash.
Smith died Monday afternoon from her wounds, which were described in the police report as "severe head trauma."
When Valadez arrived at the scene, Smith's body had already been covered, he told ABC News. He had filmed the crash scene and left when he heard over the police scanner a call for the emergency personnel to return to the accident immediately.
"One of the police officers who was investigating the scene said, 'You know, it's kind of spooky, but I thought I saw the lady breathing,'" Valadez said. The cameraman said he returned to the scene and watched as emergency personnel finally removed Smith, who was still seated in the car, and transported her to the hospital.
There was no immediate word whether the delay in treating her contributed to Smith's death, but one person who identified himself on Smith's MySpace page as her younger brother said he was filled with "anger and confusion."
Valadez, who used to drive an ambulance in San Antonio, says that he is critical of the fire department's efforts. "They assumed," Valadez said of the premature death determination. "This is where the lawyers are going to eat them alive."
The San Antonio Fire Department did not respond to a call for comment today, but Chief Charles Hood defended his department's response at a news conference Monday, describing the response to the crash as "triage."
"What happened was what happened," Hood said Monday, acknowledging that he did not think any treatment was administered to Smith. "They triaged."
Hood said that an investigation into his department's response will continue, but added that he did not feel like any employees would be punished because of the incident. He also met with Smith's family Monday.
"I can offer sympathy and tell them I'm sorry and give them a hug," Hood said. "I'm very sorry that it happened."
'Two Beers and Two Shots'
Smith was a passenger traveling on a San Antonio highway in a Honda shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday when 28-year-old Jenny Ann Ybarra crossed from the northbound lane into the southbound lane in her silver Pontiac, striking the Honda head-on, according to the San Antonio Police Department crash report.
San Antonio emergency medical personnel arrived and determined that Smith was dead, placing a tarp over her body and then administering first aid to the other two injured passengers.
More than an hour later, Smith was discovered to be breathing. She was then airlifted to the Brooke Army Medical Center where she died Monday.
Ybarra, who allegedly admitted to San Antonio police at the scene that she had "two beers and two shots" before driving, was charged with intoxication assault, a third degree felony in Texas, after videotaped field sobriety tests were conducted.
Ybarra was booked into the Bexar County Adult Detention Center and released on $5,000 bond. Ybarra will likely face additional charges in connection with the crash.
Friends of Smith, who lived in Austin and worked part time at an eatery while attending college, first offered a flood of prayers that the young woman was able to recover from her wounds.
"I will continue to pray that the Lord guides the doctors in every decision they make and wraps his arms around your family and friends as they get through every day," one friend Kimberly wrote. "You are so precious and such a fighter."
But around 4:30 p.m. Monday, the postings went from words of encouragement to somber words of remembrance. A poster who identified himself as Smith's little brother referred to his sister as his "hero."
He wrote, "As the tears poor from my face, the anger and confusion ill (sic) be faced with for the rest of my life are at its peak, i am smiling. … i am blessed to know now who my gardien (sic) angel is. i know that in every decision i make will be you making the right one for me."