Laguna Dispatch Delay Is Probed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laguna Beach police on Tuesday launched an investigation into why a dispatcher waited nearly 10 minutes before sending additional medical help to the scene of a weekend accident that claimed two lives.

The head-on collision occurred at about 11:10 p.m. Saturday on El Toro Road near Laguna Canyon Road.

Two fire engines were immediately dispatched. But when fire officials called for a second paramedic unit to help the victims, the dispatcher apparently forgot to send out the call until at least nine minutes later, when firefighters called a second time, according to Police Chief James Spreine.

"The dispatcher failed to immediately dispatch that second unit until she was reminded," Spreine said Tuesday. "She was either distracted through human error or forgot. We are looking into the matter. If the findings are sustained, we will take appropriate action."

Spreine said the delay was not a factor in the deaths, but investigators will analyze whether a quicker paramedic response would have made a difference.

Derek Komorous, 26, of Aliso Viejo was killed as he tried to pass a vehicle and collided with an oncoming vehicle driven by Matthew Kyle Schultz, 35, of Carlsbad, police said.

Schultz was pronounced dead at the scene. Schultz's wife, Jennifer Caprile Schultz, 37, suffered minor injuries. She and Komorous were taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo, where she was treated and released Monday.

Later that day, Komorous underwent surgery to decrease the swelling in his brain. The doctor who operated on him was also one of the first people on the scene of the accident. Dr. Robert Jackson, a neurosurgeon at Mission Hospital, was coming back from the emergency room when he witnessed the accident. Jackson said he immediately went to work on Komorous but quickly realized there was little hope.

"He got ejected from his car and landed on his head," Jackson said. "He was very close to being clinically brain dead."

He said although he did not keep track of time, he thought paramedics got the patient to the hospital quickly.

Don Komorous, 58, of Laguna Beach said his son's girlfriend witnessed the accident from another vehicle. She told him it seemed like roughly 30 minutes before the paramedics arrived.

"It just hurts so much," said his wife, Sharon. "Every minute counted in this accident. It's just such a crucial, crucial time."

The probe comes as public agencies focus more attention on dispatch centers. The Orange County Grand Jury recently recommended that the county improve working conditions for emergency dispatchers, who suffer from low morale and an increasing number of work-related injuries.

The grand jury report looked at the county's Emergency Operations Center. The dispatcher at the center of the new investigation worked at Laguna Beach's communications center.

City Manager Kenneth Frank said that in his 21 years as Laguna Beach city manager, he can't recall any problems with the dispatching service.

But a longtime Laguna Beach firefighter, who did not wish to be identified, said dispatch problems are not uncommon.

"We're kind of left out there on the field on our own sometimes," the firefighter said.

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