Rescue workers slow to find driver killed in crash with polo booster

John GoodmanPalm Beach County Sheriff's OfficeWellington

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue officials are still investigating why a paramedic who dove into a canal to search an overturned car for survivors never found the man inside, even though he was still in the driver's seat with his seat belt on.

The incident came in a high-profile February crash involving millionaire polo mogul John Goodman, who is charged with drunkenly ramming the car of a recent college graduate into a canal near Wellington, then leaving the scene without calling for help or trying to rescue the drowning victim.

The crash at Lake Worth Road and 120th Avenue South was reported at 1 a.m. by a passer-by but likely occurred at least several minutes earlier. Fire-rescue workers and Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to the crash scene about 1:12 a.m.

They found the wreckage of Goodman's Bentley, and in the canal nearby they saw the protruding wheels of an overturned Hyundai Sonata that had been driven by Scott Wilson, 23.

Newly released fire-rescue reports show that a fire-rescue captain entered the waist-high canal water around the car and reportedly reached his hand and leg through the driver side door, which he said was slightly open.

He found nothing inside. He moved to the passenger side of the car, where he felt around and also reported he felt nothing.

Sheriff's Office deputies called for a tow truck company to remove Wilson's car from the canal. It wasn't until the car was pulled out of the water that investigators realized Wilson was still inside.

"As the vehicle was coming up out of the water, we immediately observed the white male seated in the driver seat and seatbelted in," a Sheriff's Office deputy wrote in a report.

By then, Wilson was dead, his lungs full of silt. The county Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death as drowning.

Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, the county's largest fire-rescue agency, has two dive teams but it is difficult to dispatch them quickly, so initial inspections of submerged cars are usually done by paramedics who arrive to the scene, agency spokesman Capt. Don DeLucia said Tuesday.

"You rely on someone from the arriving crew initially," he said. He said rescue trucks are equipped with masks and snorkels, and paramedics are trained to conduct simple dive searches.

DeLucia said he was unfamiliar with the details of the crash, but pointed out that it is extremely difficult to see in canal water even in daylight.

The agency launched an investigation, but four months later it has not been concluded, DeLucia said.

The Sheriff's Office also conducted a review of its deputies' actions after the crash and determined they responded appropriately, a Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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John GoodmanPalm Beach County Sheriff's OfficeWellington
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