Kentucky Overdose Suicide Prompts Suit Against Responders

The family of a Kentucky man who died of a suicide-related overdose in 2015 has filed suit against the fire department EMTs who they claim failed to properly transport him to the hospital when initially called.

Frank Barberick committed suicide on November 16, 2015 by taking a large quantity of his prescribed medication. Boone County Sheriff’s Deputy Brett Dover arrived at Barberick’s residence in response to a 911 hang-up call. At the time Barberick was conscious although showing symptoms of impairment.

Barberick’s wife Jessica informed Deputy Dover had taken the pills, but Barberick denied it. Two Florence Fire Department EMTs, Paul Hilmer and Joshua Ellison, responded along with the Florence Police Department Lieutenant Roger Allen and Officer Mike Stewart.

According to the complaint:

  • Defendant Deputy Dover then asked Mr. Barberick to come downstairs to have an EMT check him out.
  • Barberick refused to go with Defendant Deputy Dover, so Defendant Deputy Dover placed Mr. Barberick under arrest for an outstanding warrant.
  • As Defendant Deputy Dover attempted to move Mr. Barberick out of the apartment, Mr. Barberick attempted multiple times to sit back down on the couch “to wait for the paramedics.”
  • By this point Mr. Barberick’s speech was noticeably more slurred and labored.
  • While on the couch, the Defendants Paul Hilmer and Joshua Ellison, EMT’s, arrived and one asked for Defendant Dover’s flashlight.
  • The EMT examined Mr. Barberick for a total of seven seconds then stood up and said, “His pupils, I mean he’s nothing, no narcotics.”
  • At one point the EMT told Mr. Barberick, “hey hey, stop. You’re mumbling, you ain’t making sense, just stop you’re not helping yourself.”
  • After deciding not to treat Frank, it took Defendant Deputy Dover and one of the EMT’s to get Mr. Barberick down the stairs in order to put him in the cruiser.
  • While in the parking lot, Defendant Deputy Dover conferred with Defendant Stewart as to the likelihood that the jail would accept Mr. Barberick in his condition. Defendant Deputy Dover’s body camera was then turned off.
  • Defendant Lieutenant Roger Allen assisted Defendant Deputy Dover place Mr. Barberick in Defendant Officer Mike Stewart’s patrol car.
  • Defendants Lieutenant Roger Allen, Deputy Dover, and Officer Mike Stewart all failed to restrain Mr. Barberick with a safety belt, in violation of department policy.
  • Defendant Officer Mike Stewart transported Mr. Barberick to the Boone County Detention Center.
  • On the way to the Detention Center, Defendant Mike Stewart noticed that Mr. Barberick was snoozing or snoring in the back seat.
  • When he arrived at the Detention Center, Mr. Barberick was unresponsive and was not breathing.
  • The Detention Center staff started CPR and requested paramedics assistance. The responding paramedics continued CPR and acknowledged that the original call was placed because Mr. Barberick “was drunk and had taken a handful of pills.”
  • A Burlington paramedic squad arrived to transport Mr. Barberick to the hospital.
  • The paramedics’ attempt to resuscitate Mr. Barberick failed.

The suit was filed by Jessica Barberick, individually, as the Administratrix of Frank’s estate, and as the personal representative of their daughter, Lacy Barberick. It names Florence Fire Department EMTs Hilmer and Ellison, Florence Police Department Lieutenant Allen and Officer Stewart, and Deputy Dover individually. Their organizations were not named as defendants in the suit.

The suit accuses the responders of “deliberate indifference”:

  • Barberick’s need for medical treatment was so obvious that even a layperson could have easily recognized the necessity for a doctor’s intervention, treatment and attention.
  • Defendants were objectively and subjectively aware of the risk to Mr. Barberick’s health and drew the inference that a substantial risk of harm to Mr. Barberick existed.
  • Defendants consciously disregarded the risk of overdose and failed to seek and/or provide medical treatment.
  • Upon information and belief, medical treatment by the EMTs during transport to an emergency room would have been able to prevent Mr. Barberick’s death.
  • Defendants actions were a deliberate indifference and created a substantial risk of serious harm to Mr. Barberick’s future health, violating his Eighth Amendment rights.
  • Due to the Defendants deliberate indifference to the decedent’s serious medical needs, Mr. Barberick died while in custody.

The suit seeks damages for Barberick’s pain and suffering, final expenses associated with his death, loss of consortium to his family members, and punitive damages.

Here is a copy of the complaint: barberick-v-florence-fire

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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