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CHARLESTON, S.C. — State investigators are reviewing a case where a DUI suspect died after an officer — not the suspect — signed a form refusing medical treatment. The man, Nathaniel Rhodes, 58, had eight broken ribs and a ruptured liver when he died, according to medical records.
Rhodes crashed his van last August and, according to a police report, the father of three was already on a stretcher in an ambulance when an officer decided to conduct a field sobriety test after finding an open bottle of wine in his van. According to the report, Rhodes told the officer that “he had no injuries that would stop him from completing the tests” and then after being taken out of the ambulance, “failed to maintain his balance” during the tests.
Instead of being taken to the hospital, Rhodes was sent to the police station to be booked for DUI.
A form refusing medical treatment lists a signature to be provided by the patient, in this case Rhodes, or a guardian. But instead, an officer on the scene signed the form — raising questions about why Rhodes wasn’t taken to the hospital.
“That is the big question,” said Justin Bamberg, the attorney representing Rhodes’ widow. “And that is the question that both Charleston EMS and the City of Charleston Police Department have to answer."
According to the police report, the cruiser’s dashboard camera was malfunctioning.
In surveillance video Bamberg provided to NBC News, EMTs at the police station don’t seem to realize Rhodes has broken ribs or any other internal injuries. Medical records show that Rhodes' blood alcohol level was .11 at the time, exceeding South Carolina's legal limit for drivers of .08.
His family believes, however, that the decision not to take him to the hospital delayed adequate medical treatment and ultimately proved fatal.
Rhodes eventually slipped into a coma and died four days later at a hospital.
His wife of 35 years, Annette Rhodes, is devastated.
“It hurts,” she said. “It really does.”
After NBC News inquired about the case, Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to conduct an independent investigation.
In a written statement, the department said that “while gathering information in response to a news request involving this case, the CPD was provided with a document that raised questions about whether CPD officers followed proper procedure when the driver was not transported to the hospital from the scene of the accident.”
Reynolds said, in part: “The loss of a life is always tragic and must be taken very seriously.”
The officer has been placed on administrative leave.
Bamberg said the Rhodes family was considering legal action against the department.
“He should have gone immediately to the hospital,” Annette Rhodes said. “I wish they would have given him a chance to still be here with us.”