UPDATED: Police say ambulance driver fell asleep before head-on crash
ROME, FLOYD COUNTY, GA (WRCB) - Five people were injured when an ambulance transporting a patient in North Georgia crossed the center line and hit a car head-on.
Early word is the ambulance driver, running a non-emergency call, nodded off at the wheel, but the lingering question is...why?
A Walker County ambulance is totaled after a crash in Floyd County. While transporting a patient to Rome, two weeks ago, driver, Gerald Zigner, crossed the center line on Highway 27 near Armuchee High School and crashed head-on into a car.
"It's a terrible situation," said Walker County Emergency Management Agency Director David Ashburn. "It's an accident."
The ambulance flipped onto its side, injuring him, another paramedic and the patient inside. The driver of the car was hurt, but his passenger Terri Payne was critically injured.
"State Patrol has already said that the county, obviously, is at fault," admitted Ashburn. "The question is, why?"
According to the accident report, Zigner fell asleep. We asked the director about his paramedic, his record and the workload.
"We work a 24 hour on and 48 hours off. He had not worked anywhere for 24 hours prior to coming to the shift," explained Ashburn. "Prior to this incident, he has a perfect record. He'd only been with us about three months, but he's been in the business for years and been driving for years."
Zigner had been on the job nearly 12 hours when the accident occurred, but as Ashburn informed, the paramedics spend much less time in the ambulance than in the office. He hopes the investigation will determine if he truly fell asleep, or if perhaps some previously unknown medical condition played a role.
"We're in the business of taking care of folks. We care," he said. "And, not only do we not want this to happen, but that's what we're there to take care of."
Both paramedics are on workman's comp right now, so Walker County has yet to take action. Ashburn continued, "That paramedic, that's what he chose to make his life, to help and make people better and, you know, so, he's devastated by the fact that this has occurred, too."
The Georgia State Patrol is handling the investigation. If they determine Zigner simply nodded off, the director tells me he'll be disciplined and have to complete remedial courses before he's ever allowed back to his position. If, on the other hand, a medical condition is blamed, Walker County brass will focus on his health first.
The ambulance patient was treated and released the day of the accident. Terri Payne, the critically injured passenger in the car is recovering at a rehab center in Floyd County.