INGLESIDE, N.C. — Larry Green stepped out of the darkness so suddenly that the car that hit him didn’t even leave skid marks. The impact sent his shoes, socks and the unopened beer in his hand flying.
Green came to rest on U.S. 401 alongside a trash-strewn ditch, where he was examined by paramedics and declared dead.
Over the next 2½ hours, the bloody body with a gaping head wound was zipped into a black vinyl bag, taken to the morgue and slid into a stainless-steel refrigerated drawer.
There was just one problem: Green was alive.
Two weeks after that shocking discovery, the 29-year-old Green clings to life in a hospital intensive care unit, paralyzed.
No pulse or signs of breathing
Anguished family members have listened in horror as officials described the many missed signs and miscues that led to the error. They and others in this rural tobacco community northeast of Raleigh are left to wonder how something like this could have happened — and whether it has happened before.
“Something ain’t right with that,” said T.J. Henderson, a high school classmate of Green’s. “I thought they were supposed to try to give mouth to mouth or the shock at least till they got to the emergency room. That’s where I thought you were pronounced dead at, not on the scene. ... Not on the street.”
On the chilly night of Jan. 24, Green and a pair of friends showed up at the Ingleside Grocery about 8:45 p.m. to pick up a few tall-boy cans of Natural Ice to take back to his trailer down the road. Green never made it.
According to reports from state troopers and the Franklin County attorney’s office, 36-year-old Tamuel Jackson did not have time to stop her car before it slammed into Green as he tried to cross the highway in front of his trailer.
Randy Kearney, an off-duty paramedic, was on the scene at 8:54 p.m. and found no pulse or sign of breathing. Blood had formed a foot-wide corona around Green’s skull.
Medical examiner at the scene
When county paramedics Paul Kilmer and Katherine Lamell arrived moments later, Kearney told them Green was dead, but asked Kilmer to double-check. Kilmer replied that his determination was “good enough for me,” according to Kearney and two firefighters. Kilmer told officials he could not remember saying that, but doesn’t deny it.
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By the time paramedic Pamela Hayes arrived at 9 p.m., Green was covered by a white sheet.
Although the law does not require the medical examiner to go to accident scenes, Dr. J. B. Perdue showed up half an hour later and began examining the body, lifting and twisting Green’s broken right leg, rolling him over and inserting a gloved finger into the gash in Green’s head.
“That’s more than I need to see!” Lamell shouted.
When Perdue opened Green’s jacket, several firefighters holding a tarp to shield the body from onlookers noticed what appeared to be an in-and-out movement in Green’s chest and abdomen.
“Doc, is he breathing?” the firefighters heard Kearney ask. Perdue told Kearney that it was just air escaping or moving around inside the body.
Paramedics put Green in a body bag and drove him to the morgue in nearby Louisburg. There, Perdue examined the body a second time. He took a blood sample, lifted Green’s eyelids and sniffed around the man’s mouth for alcohol.
'Like a frog leg jumping in a frying pan'
Hayes, who had accompanied the body, thought she noticed twitching in Green’s right eyelid. She asked Perdue if he was sure Green was really dead. Perdue responded that the twitching was a spasm, “like a frog leg jumping in a frying pan.”
“I don’t feel good about this,” Hayes told colleagues, according to the county attorney’s report. She asked Perdue again if he was sure Green was dead. He reassured her. The body bag was zipped back up, and Green was placed in the portable morgue unit, where the temperature is kept a few degrees above freezing.
Green probably would have remained in the stainless-steel container had state Trooper Tyrone Hunt not arrived around 11:20 p.m. and asked Perdue to help him determine the direction from which Green had been struck.
This time, Perdue observed slight movement. He could not find a pulse in Green’s neck, thigh or wrist, even with a stethoscope. Perdue summoned paramedics and an electrocardiogram, which was able to pick up a faint heart rhythm.
Family members who have kept vigil at Green’s bedside say his eyes flutter at times and he shows signs he recognizes those around him. It is unclear whether his paralysis is from the accident, or the handling of his body afterward.
Officials fired or suspended
Within days, Kearney, Kilmer, Hayes and Lamell were all suspended with pay. The state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services suspended Kearney’s and Kilmer’s credentials, citing “a lack of competence to practice with a reasonable degree of skill and safety.”
Kearney and Kilmer were fired; Hayes and Lamell were ordered to undergo remedial training before coming back to work. Kearney declined an Associated Press request for comment, and the others did not respond to messages.
Dr. John Butts, the state’s chief medical examiner, said that Perdue did everything the law required of him and that there are no plans to censure the 34-year veteran.
“He went because he was informed that a man was dead as a result of violence or trauma,” Butts said. “He did not come with a doctor’s bag and a stethoscope. He came with a pencil and paper to get information.”
Perdue told the AP: “I am not in any shape form or fashion responsible for pronouncement of death. ... Obviously, I’m in sympathy with the family. My heart goes out to them, and my prayers are that this person recovers.”
The family has retained an attorney.
Elaine Hicks, who lives two trailers over from Green’s, said she thinks people should focus on the miracle of Green’s survival. In fact, she asked, who’s to say the paramedics weren’t right, and that Green did not come back from the dead?
“It could have been the Almighty,” the 57-year-old woman said. “He has the last say so.”