Negligence Charged as Wrongful-Death Trial Opens : Lawsuit: A medical expert testifies that paramedics stalled in treating a Marine stabbed by a bystander who was giving chase at the request of a police officer.
Paramedics were “grossly negligent” in their treatment of a Marine lieutenant who bled to death after being stabbed by a bystander who was trying to help a San Clemente police officer, a medical expert testified Monday.
Marine Lt. Harry H. Summerfield, 23, a Naval Academy graduate, was being investigated as a prowler when he clubbed Officer Allen Harry over the head with a tire iron in an attempt to escape arrest in the early morning hours of March 23, 1986, police contend.
A bystander, who was also a Marine, helped the injured officer chase Summerfield and then stabbed him in the chest with a knife during a struggle.
Summerfield, who was stationed in Oceanside, had attended a bachelor party earlier in the evening.
Summerfield’s widow, Doris Ann Summerfield of Stafford, Va., filed a wrongful-death suit against the city of San Clemente, seeking more than $7 million in damages.
On the first day of the trial Monday, attorneys for the widow alleged that the police officer improperly asked for the bystander’s help and that paramedics negligently stalled in treating Summerfield’s wounds.
“The officer shouldn’t have enlisted the help of a citizen armed with a Buck knife,” attorney Guy A. Ricciardulli said during a break in the non-jury trial before Superior Court Judge Donald E. Smallwood.
In addition, Ricciardulli said, 45 minutes elapsed between the time paramedics arrived and the time Summerfield was transported to a hospital.
The paramedics and police “willfully and maliciously let the decedent lie in the street as he bled to death,” Ricciardulli alleged in court documents.
Attorneys for San Clemente denied any wrongdoing was committed.
“Nothing that the officer did was improper . . . (and) the paramedics followed standard protocol,” said attorney Hans Van Ligten.
But Dr. William O’Riordan, an expert in trauma care, testifying for the plaintiff, disagreed.
If the paramedics acted properly, O’Riordan said, “I think (Summerfield) would have survived.” He said he didn’t see any reason for the delay in transporting the patient.
“Time in trauma (cases) is the key to success,” he said.
Another witness testified that police and paramedics attended only to the police officer’s head wound and ignored Summerfield’s injuries for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
“They didn’t go to him,” said Alan R. Lytle, 27, a truck driver from Tennessee. “He just laid there.” Lytle was a roommate of Jonathan L. Alcorn, the man who stabbed Summerfield.
After the incident, Lytle testified, Alcorn told him that he didn’t stab Summerfield out of self-defense as he had told authorities, but because he thought that’s what the police officer wanted him to do. No charges were ever filed against Alcorn.
Harry, who now works for the Garden Grove Police Department, also took the stand Monday, giving an emotional account of the incident.
He said he responded to a disturbance call in the 200 block of Avenida Serra about 2 a.m. when he saw Summerfield on the second floor of an apartment complex.
Summerfield walked down the stairs and appeared to want to talk, Harry said. Suddenly, Summerfield swung a tire iron at his head, he said.
“He was looking right at my head,” Harry recalled. “He never took his eyes off the center of my forehead.
“Everything went black. When it hit it made a loud noise, like Reggie Jackson connecting with a fastball for a home run. . . . I thought I was dead.”
Harry said he nearly lost consciousness but still managed to give chase to Summerfield, who was fleeing. He said he asked Alcorn for help in chasing Summerfield. Alcorn passed Harry and caught up to Summerfield, Harry said.
When Ricciardulli asked him if he thought it was improper to enlist Alcorn’s help, Harry admitted it wasn’t common but said that he was within his authority.
“I can use civilians to assist me in apprehending somebody. . . . It’s under the discretion of the officer.”