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Trial against ambulance company begins

EMTs’ liability questioned during 2015 murder

YOUNGSTOWN — A medical alert call button can be a lifeline for a person who can’t reach a phone in an emergency, but what if a murderer answers the door and tells the emergency medical technicians res-ponding that everything is fine?

The question isn’t hypothetical.

A Mahoning County Common Pleas Court jury was seated Monday to decide if the ambulance company that responded to Erika Huff’s home Nov. 6, 2015, should be held liable for just that scenario. The ambulance company’s lawyer, though, maintains the emergency medical technicians had no right to insist on coming into the house and no reason to suspect they ought to.

Huff was murdered and her mother badly beaten that night by now-death row inmate Lance Hundley, convicted in May 2018 of aggravated murder, attempted murder, felonious assault and two counts of aggravated arson.

No one knows how Huff’s medical alert button was pressed that night, if she pressed it herself or if it was pressed accidentally during the attack — the button was “embedded” in her throat when Hundley strangled her to death after beating her.

The 41-year-old mother had multiple sclerosis and couldn’t walk.

When the button was pressed, Guardian Medical Alert tried to call Huff on the phone and tried to speak to her through an intercom on the device, but got no response.

So, the company called Youngstown 911 dispatchers and asked them to send an ambulance to her 44 Cleveland St. home. They also called Huff’s mother, Denise Johnson, who went to her daughter’s house up the road to let in the EMTs. The 911 dispatcher then called Rural Metro, the ambulance company that was bought out by American Medical Response around the same time. Youngstown dispatcher Rose Freeman can be heard telling an AMR dispatcher what Guardian told her — that Huff had MS and the medical alert company couldn’t reach her.

The dispatcher for AMR, James “Monty” Hill, didn’t tell the EMTs what Freeman told him about who the medical alert device was registered to, her medical condition or any other details, he testified Tuesday.

When EMTs Deanna Ailes and Brittney Koch arrived and knocked on the door at 2:09 a.m., no one answered at first, they testified Tuesday. They knocked on a window, and Hundley answered the door.

Everything was fine, he told the EMTs. And, they testified, there were no signs of distress. He wasn’t sweaty or bloody, the house appeared tidy, there were no moans or screams for help.

So they left at 2:11 a.m., 94 seconds elapsed while they were there.

Representing the family, attorney David Engler’s line of questioning focused on what Hill did not tell Koch and Ailes, implying that if the EMTs had known the device was registered to a woman, 41, with MS, who couldn’t walk, they might have — or should have — asked to talk to Huff. And, Engler contends, Huff was certainly still alive when they arrived, because Hundley didn’t appear ruffled to the EMTs.

When Johnson came to the house to help her daughter, Hundley attacked her too, bludgeoning her over and over again with a hammer, until it broke off.

Then, Johnson felt herself being dragged and felt fluid splashed on her and her daughter, who lay next to her as Hundley tried to set them on fire.

“‘Mommy is here,'” Engler said Johnson said to her daughter.

Johnson and her husband, Lonnie Johnson, are raising Huff’s daughter, now 9. Huff had retired from working for the Mahoning County Clerk of Courts in the auto title office about a month before she was killed. Kathi McNabb Welsh, Mahoning County chief deputy clerk of courts, testified about Huff’s “cheerful” personality.

AMR defense attorney Nick Resetar argued Tuesday in opening statements Hundley is the sole person responsible for Huff’s death and Johnson’s brutal attack. He said Hill, Koch and Ailes are good people who did their jobs.

“Nobody saw this coming,” Resetar said.

The EMTs took Hundley at his word, had no right to insist on coming into the house and no reason to suspect they ought to, Resetar said. And, Resetar said, Huff may have already been dead.

Engler argues the company didn’t follow through on its responsibility, and Hill should have communicated all of the circumstances to Koch and Ailes.

Ailes’ testimony was contentious. As Engler questioned her, Ailes disputed the way he phrased questions.

Hundley is the uncle of Huff’s daughter and had been staying in her house for a couple of weeks. Lonnie Johnson said Huff told Hundley he would have to leave because she didn’t like the way he spoke to her home health aides.

The jury of three women and seven men are expected to continue hearing testimony today.

Trial against ambulance company begins

EMTs’ liability questioned during 2015 murder

YOUNGSTOWN — A medical alert call button can be a lifeline for a person who can’t reach a phone in an emergency, but what if a murderer answers the door and tells the emergency medical technicians res-ponding that everything is fine?

The question isn’t hypothetical.

A Mahoning County Common Pleas Court jury was seated Monday to decide if the ambulance company that responded to Erika Huff’s home Nov. 6, 2015, should be held liable for just that scenario. The ambulance company’s lawyer, though, maintains the emergency medical technicians had no right to insist on coming into the house and no reason to suspect they ought to.

Huff was murdered and her mother badly beaten that night by now-death row inmate Lance Hundley, convicted in May 2018 of aggravated murder, attempted murder, felonious assault and two counts of aggravated arson.

No one knows how Huff’s medical alert button was pressed that night, if she pressed it herself or if it was pressed accidentally during the attack — the button was “embedded” in her throat when Hundley strangled her to death after beating her.

The 41-year-old mother had multiple sclerosis and couldn’t walk.

When the button was pressed, Guardian Medical Alert tried to call Huff on the phone and tried to speak to her through an intercom on the device, but got no response.

So, the company called Youngstown 911 dispatchers and asked them to send an ambulance to her 44 Cleveland St. home. They also called Huff’s mother, Denise Johnson, who went to her daughter’s house up the road to let in the EMTs. The 911 dispatcher then called Rural Metro, the ambulance company that was bought out by American Medical Response around the same time. Youngstown dispatcher Rose Freeman can be heard telling an AMR dispatcher what Guardian told her — that Huff had MS and the medical alert company couldn’t reach her.

The dispatcher for AMR, James “Monty” Hill, didn’t tell the EMTs what Freeman told him about who the medical alert device was registered to, her medical condition or any other details, he testified Tuesday.

When EMTs Deanna Ailes and Brittney Koch arrived and knocked on the door at 2:09 a.m., no one answered at first, they testified Tuesday. They knocked on a window, and Hundley answered the door.

Everything was fine, he told the EMTs. And, they testified, there were no signs of distress. He wasn’t sweaty or bloody, the house appeared tidy, there were no moans or screams for help.

So they left at 2:11 a.m., 94 seconds elapsed while they were there.

Representing the family, attorney David Engler’s line of questioning focused on what Hill did not tell Koch and Ailes, implying that if the EMTs had known the device was registered to a woman, 41, with MS, who couldn’t walk, they might have — or should have — asked to talk to Huff. And, Engler contends, Huff was certainly still alive when they arrived, because Hundley didn’t appear ruffled to the EMTs.

When Johnson came to the house to help her daughter, Hundley attacked her too, bludgeoning her over and over again with a hammer, until it broke off.

Then, Johnson felt herself being dragged and felt fluid splashed on her and her daughter, who lay next to her as Hundley tried to set them on fire.

“‘Mommy is here,'” Engler said Johnson said to her daughter.

Johnson and her husband, Lonnie Johnson, are raising Huff’s daughter, now 9. Huff had retired from working for the Mahoning County Clerk of Courts in the auto title office about a month before she was killed. Kathi McNabb Welsh, Mahoning County chief deputy clerk of courts, testified about Huff’s “cheerful” personality.

AMR defense attorney Nick Resetar argued Tuesday in opening statements Hundley is the sole person responsible for Huff’s death and Johnson’s brutal attack. He said Hill, Koch and Ailes are good people who did their jobs.

“Nobody saw this coming,” Resetar said.

The EMTs took Hundley at his word, had no right to insist on coming into the house and no reason to suspect they ought to, Resetar said. And, Resetar said, Huff may have already been dead.

Engler argues the company didn’t follow through on its responsibility, and Hill should have communicated all of the circumstances to Koch and Ailes.

Ailes’ testimony was contentious. As Engler questioned her, Ailes disputed the way he phrased questions.

Hundley is the uncle of Huff’s daughter and had been staying in her house for a couple of weeks. Lonnie Johnson said Huff told Hundley he would have to leave because she didn’t like the way he spoke to her home health aides.

The jury of three women and seven men are expected to continue hearing testimony today.