Witness: Protective barriers on Courtney Causeway Pedestrian Bridge slowed emergency response

Bollards intended to protect people on bridge

TAMPA, Fla. — A man had a heart attack while exercising on the Courtney Campbell Causeway Pedestrian Bridge and even though witnesses immediately called 911, it took nearly an hour to get him to the hospital. 

The I-Team has uncovered that safety devices meant to protect him hampered efforts to get him help.

At 9:25 a.m. on December 16, a man was exercising on the bridge when he collapsed near the top.

“People came upon him,” said a 911 caller. “And he's flat out and having trouble breathing.”

“I was just skating by a guy and I noticed him hit the ground,” said another caller.

Gerri Newman was with a cycling group that stopped to help. 

“They were trying to revive him by performing CPR,” Newman said.  

Within two minutes, dispatchers sent emergency crews from both directions: Tampa and Safety Harbor.

Meanwhile, bystanders tried to keep the man alive.

“Where's the ambulance?” one of the 911 callers asked, after being on the line for several minutes.

“They're running with their lights and sirens. They're trying to get there as quickly as they can,” a dispatcher replied. “I know this is taking longer than you expected, but don't let them stop. If they get tired, just have them rotate.”

“We watched CPR being performed by various people that were skilled at doing it for 20 minutes, maybe longer before we saw ambulances that were at both sides of the bridge,” said Newman.

18 minutes after the first 911 call was made, Tampa paramedics acknowledged they were at the bridge, but had not made it to the top to begin treating the victim.

“We're making our way that way,” the paramedic responded.

One issue was the barricades, called bollards, had to be removed.

A Tampa Parks and Recreation employee with a key removed the locks from the devices, but there was another issue.

“Apparently, they could not remove the posts in order to get the ambulances on the bridge,” said Newman.

The bollards on the west side, which were only four years old, were rusted tight.

“Ok, the medical guys are running up the bridge,” a 911 caller told the dispatcher. “They’ve got all their stuff in their hands. They're on the way up here."

Safety Harbor paramedics ran about four-tenths of a mile on foot to reach the patient.

On the other side, Tampa Fire and Rescue initially sent a small four-wheeler called a Gator.

Eventually Tampa's ambulance got to the top of the bridge and the patient was loaded, but because the other side was blocked, they had to back the ambulance down the bridge.

At 9:59 a.m., 34 minutes after the first call, the ambulance departed for St. Joseph’s Hospital. The patient arrived there 19 minutes later and was pronounced dead 7 minutes after that.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials discourages the use of bollards, saying they can "slow access for emergency responders."

But local officials believe they can prevent tragedies like the terrorist attack last year in New York, when a man used a vehicle to mow down and kill cyclists on a bike path, with the use of bollards..

The City of Tampa removed locks from the bollards after the recent incident, making it easier for rescue workers to access the bridge.  

We discovered two bollards on the west side are still rusted shut.

The city says it's now in the process of inspecting all these bollards to make sure they're in proper working order and is considering possibly replacing them with a different material that will hold up better in the climate.

Newman hopes that will happen before there's another emergency.

“Seconds and minutes count so it would have been nice if he could have been addressed sooner,” Newman said.

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If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com.

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