A 20-year-old Michigan woman who was declared dead by paramedics and placed in a body bag for nearly three hours was discovered alive when a funeral home employee unzipped the bag and found her staring up at him, a lawyer for the woman's family said.
Timesha Beauchamp, who was born with cerebral palsy, is in critical condition and on a respirator at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit, her family's lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, said during a Zoom news conference.
"When the body bag was opened and they were getting ready to embalm the body, Timesha's eyes were open and she was breathing," Fieger said.
Fieger said shortly after Beauchamp was declared dead, her godmother, Savannah Spears, a registered nurse, told paramedics and police officers that she saw Beauchamp move and thought she detected a faint pulse.
"They told her the movements were involuntary, that they were related to the drugs that they had administered to Timesha and it did not change their opinion as to the fact that they felt she was dead," said Fieger, who once represented the controversial Michigan pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian against murder charges tied to physician-assisted suicides.
The incident unfolded on Sunday morning at Beauchamp's home in Southfield, a suburb of Detroit, when her family called 911 after noticing her lips were pale, that there were secretions around her mouth and she was having trouble breathing, Fieger said.
Southfield Fire Department paramedics arrived at the home at 7:34 a.m. on a call for an unresponsive female, Fire Chief Johnny L. Menifee said in a statement released on Monday. Menifee said the woman was not breathing when paramedics arrived.
"They checked multiple pulse points on the patient," Menifee said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The firefighters who responded checked Beauchamp's vital signs three times, including once after Beauchamp's godmother told them she thought she saw her move, Menifee added. He said the emergency crew -- two firefighter paramedics and two firefighter emergency medical technicians -- tried life-reviving measures on Beauchamp for 30 minutes.
He said the medical information on Beauchamp was relayed to an emergency department physician at Ascension Providence Hospital in Southfield, where Beauchamp was pronounced dead based on the given information.
Menifee said the four firefighters, including a lieutenant with 18 years of experience, have been placed on administrative leave in keeping with standard procedure while the incident is investigated by the city of Southfield and the Oakland County Medical Control Authority.
"They feel terrible that this happened. They can't imagine how this possibly happened," Menifee said of the first responders. "They're emotionally upset that this happened and rightfully so."
Menifee apologized for not reaching out to Beauchamp's family but said he was in no position to answer their questions. He pledged to get answers for the family, but said "it's going to take time."
"I take full responsibility for not reaching out to them. I feel tremendously upset and bad at myself for not doing that upfront, but I know they want answers and I'm trying to get those answers for them," he said.
Since there was no foul play involved, the Southfield Police Department notified the Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office of the findings and an on-duty forensic pathologist at the coroner's office released the body to the woman's family to make arrangements to have the body picked up by a funeral home of their choosing, according to a statement Menifee released on Monday.
Fieger said the firefighters who worked on Beauchamp placed her in a body bag and left the home around 9 a.m. But Menifee said on Wednesday that was "grossly inaccurate."
"That is absolutely untrue," the chief said. "It is not part of our standard operating procedures, nor do we carry that equipment."
Beauchamp's relatives contacted the John H. Cole Funeral Home in Detroit. Workers from the mortuary came to the home around 11:25 a.m., picked up what they initially thought was a dead person and took it to the nearby funeral home.
Fieger said the family received a frantic call from the funeral home director around 11:45 a.m.
"The embalmer was actually there and was the person who opened the body bag," Fieger said.
Staff at the funeral home also contacted the Detroit Fire Department, Dave Fornell, deputy commissioner of the Detroit Fire Department, told ABC News. He said the call the fire department received from the funeral home was for a person having difficulty breathing and that an emergency medical services crew didn't know the full story until they arrived.
"We couldn't believe it," Fornell said.
Fieger said he was retained by the family to investigate alleged negligence on the part of the paramedics and police for a possible lawsuit. He said Beauchamp might not be in the condition she's in now had she immediately been rushed to a hospital instead of being left in a body bag for nearly three hours.
"Our main concern, along with the family, is her survival and her well-being," Fieger said. "The doctors are unable to give a prognosis right now and have indicated that it's touch and go."