Inquiry Clears 2 Paramedics Who Pronounced Live Man Dead

Times Staff Writer

Two city paramedics who last month pronounced a Sylmar man dead only to have a coroner’s investigator revive him have been returned to active duty, it was reported Thursday.

Los Angeles city Fire Chief Donald Manning said an investigation of the May 15 incident determined that the paramedics followed correct procedure in pronouncing 63-year-old Kenneth W. Smith dead.

A department report presented Thursday to the city Fire Commission concluded that a mixture of alcohol and a prescription drug caused Smith to suffer from a “severe state of hypothermia,” a subnormal body temperature.

An emergency room physician could have difficulty finding signs of life in that situation, the report said.


According to the report, paramedics Richard Aceves and James C. Smith said they detected no sign of life when they found Smith slumped over a workbench inside his toolshed. They were responding to a 3:15 p.m. report of a possible drug overdose at the Los Olivos trailer park, 15831 Olden St.

‘Temperature Was Cold’

“The patient’s eyes were glazed over and non-reactive to light, and his body temperature was cold, with no responsive body movement,” the report said.

Unable to find a pulse or to detect breathing, the paramedics pronounced Smith dead at 3:35 p.m., then contacted the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.


Phillip Campbell, the coroner’s investigator who was called to remove the body, said Thursday that he revived Smith about 5:15 p.m. after he leaned over him, put his hands on his back and saw his jaw twitch three times.

Campbell said he pulled chewing tobacco from Smith’s mouth and called paramedics back to the scene. By then, Smith was breathing on his own, he said.

“There was never any intent on my part to check him for life,” he said. “It was purely coincidence that I put my hands on his back.”

Smith was taken to Holy Cross Hospital in Mission Hills, where he recovered and was released several days later.


Aceves and James Smith were placed on desk duty while the Fire Department completed its report.

The results of the investigation were turned over to the County Department of Health Services, which certifies paramedics and is continuing its own investigation.