As Irvo Otieno was dying, frustration grew over EMS response: 'This is just totally unacceptable'

Posted at 4:48 PM, Mar 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-23 12:39:15-04

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. -- CBS 6 senior reporter Wayne Covil sought to answer questions about why it took Dinwiddie County EMS 18 minutes to respond to Central State Hospital the day Irvo Otieno died at the state-run psychiatric hospital.

The first 9-1-1 call from the hospital was made at 4:42 p.m. on March 6, 2023.

“So the patient is a new admission, so we’re still in the admission unit and he’s very aggressive," the caller told the dispatcher.

A moment later, the caller had an update.

"So they’re doing CPR right now," the caller said. "There's no pulse anymore."

The dispatcher responded by asking for clarification.

"Is the patient aggressive or is he not breathing?" the dispatcher asked.

"He used to be aggressive," the caller replied. "They’re turning to put him in restraints... he’s no longer breathing."

A minute after receiving the call, paramedics were sent.

They arrived at the hospital 18 minutes later.

_Irvo Otieno EMS.png

“The unit that was responding came from the closest available unit, which happened to be the center of the county that day," Dinwiddie Fire & EMS Assistant Chief Dawn Titmus said. “There were four ambulances on duty [that day]."

Those four ambulances cover the 507 square miles of Dinwiddie County.

When the 9-1-1 call came in from Central State, the closest two ambulances were already dispatched to calls, Titmus said.

"One was [at] a cardiac arrest and one’s a motor vehicle accident," Titmus said. “So they still received the closest available unit."

Someone at Central State grew frustrated in the time between the initial 9-1-1 and the arrival of EMS.

That person called 9-1-1 again.

"We called at least 15 minutes ago, we had an emergency admitted, 15, how long ago, 20 minutes ago," the caller said.

"We have medic en route," the dispatcher replied.

"You said they were en route the last time.  I mean how far were they coming from?" the caller asked. "This is just totally unacceptable.  And you all know it too."

Titmus said while running lights and sirens can help EMS arrive faster, it does not "necessarily cut a significant amount of time off” the response.

Titmus added once the crew arrived, Dinwiddie paramedics did everything they could to help Otieno.

"I would like to express appreciation to Dinwiddie County Fire & EMS for their valiant efforts to revive Mr. Otieno, upon arriving on scene," Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors chair Dr. Mark Moore said in a statement. "I offer condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. Ivor Otieno. We are all deeply saddened by the events that occurred, resulting in his death, at Central State Hospital."

Seven Henrico Sheriff's deputies and three now former Central State Hospital workers have been charged with second-degree murder in connection to Otieno's death.

While the cause of Otieno's death remained under investigation, surveillance video showed a group of sheriff’s deputies and other employees pinning him to the floor until he was motionless and limp.

The video also showed unsuccessful resuscitation efforts.

Otieno's family spoke at a news conference after seeing the footage, which they called heartbreaking and disturbing. They have equated his treatment to torture, and they and their attorneys reiterated a call at Tuesday night's news conference for the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case.

In emotional testimony, Irvo Otieno's family begs for improvement in mental health: 'Do something'

Final autopsy findings have not yet been released, though Dinwiddie Commonwealth's Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill has said multiple times that Otieno died of asphyxiation. Defense attorneys have raised the possibility that the injections contributed to his death, though Baskervill disputed that Tuesday, saying he was already dead when the shots were administered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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