Well folks, we have another one. A case where someone is accused of a crime that sounds so far-fetched that you have to wonder if it’s real or if it’s part of the plot of a TV sitcom.
According to an article on CNYCENTRAL.com, a woman in Upstate New York is accused of stealing an ambulance in Utica, New York and then driving it 140 miles, at times with the emergency lights and sirens activated, while being chased by police. Per the report in the online news outlet, the chase ended when the defendant allegedly crashed the ambulance into Irondequoit Bay in Rochester.
It’s a wacky story, if you picture it right. But, as is typically the case, there’s probably more to the story than is obvious at first glance.
As a criminal defense attorney in Annapolis, I’ve learned not to judge a case or a client based off of a media report – or even the police report. I’m used to seeing the people behind the allegations, and in my experience, there are usually extenuating circumstances that lead to a situation like this. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case here.
Who steals an ambulance? And is it always so easy?
Apparently, the defendant was from Buffalo and was in Utica because she had been involved in a car accident the previous day. The details of that incident are not provided in the article, but it was serious enough to warrant an overnight stay in the hospital. After leaving the hospital, the defendant was on her way to the train station when she allegedly stole an ambulance.
Now, I don’t know about you, but a couple of things jump out at me right away:
First of all, is it possible the woman was suffering from type of head injury that may have impaired her judgment? Perhaps she waited in the emergency room for hours and was unable to sleep – sleep deprivation can impact one’s judgment. The article doesn’t tell us anything about the injuries that landed the defendant in the hospital, but if she were my client that is one of the first things I would look into after speaking with her.
And secondly, unless she channeled FBI Special Agent Derek Morgan from Criminal Minds and hot-wired that ambulance, I have to ask how she was allegedly able to access it so easily. I realize that emergency vehicles need to be ready to go at any moment, but something about this sounds just a little too easy. If I were that ambulance company’s insurance provider, I would have some serious concerns about their security procedures – or lack thereof. Because if a random person – who may or may not be suffering from some type of head injury but certainly has poor or impaired judgment – can just stroll up to a $150,000 vehicle and hop in and take it for a joyride? Well, that tells me there may be some gaps in the company’s security that need to be addressed. Preferably before a minor decides to snag an ambulance and take it out for a spin, or someone with more nefarious plans manages to get ahold of one.
I’m not blaming the first responders here, I’m simply pointing out that, as always, there may be more to the story than is immediately apparent from the headline and news article.
Getting the whole story is key to building an effective defense.
The way this story is presented in the article certainly gives the impression that it’s a pretty clear-cut, open-and-closed case. That’s exactly the impression law enforcement and the prosecution want to make. But it’s not always accurate.
As a Maryland criminal defense attorney for more than two decades, I’ve seen a lot of cases that initially seem clear-cut fall apart once the defendant’s side of the story is known. The defendant in this case is not my client, but if she were, the first thing I would do is simply ask her, “what happened?” and then listen closely to every detail.
She may be feeling embarrassed or humiliated by this situation – that’s common when one is suspected of or charged with a crime. But I became a criminal defense attorney to help people – not to judge them. I leave the latter up to the 12 people in the jury box and the robed individual wielding the gavel. Every case is unique, so leading with compassion and listening to the specific details are crucial to developing a strategic defense.
In a criminal case, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. They must prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A strong defense will undermine the prosecution’s case whenever possible, telling the defendant’s side of the story in such a way that it demonstrates for the jury that the case is not at all clear-cut.
But she was caught with the ambulance… doesn’t that prove her guilt?
Not necessarily. Yes, the defendant was apprehended after allegedly leading law enforcement on a 140-mile chase and crashing the emergency vehicle into a lake. But the question of how she may have gained access to the ambulance in the first place may show that security measures at the ambulance company are not nearly as strict as they should be. And that means the ambulance company may bear some responsibility for what happened.
The defendant may have been suffering from an injury that impaired her judgement. Her life was put into danger when she allegedly was able to easily access and drive away in an ambulance. I’m no expert, but years of medical shows on TV have taught me that ambulances typically carry oxygen tanks which could have deadly consequences in the event of a motor vehicle crash. By failing to secure the emergency vehicle from random members of the public, I have to question if the ambulance company could be partly liable for this incident.
But wait, shouldn’t the defendant have stopped for the police?
Yes, when law enforcement is following you and indicates via sirens and / or flashing lights that you should pull over, you should do that as soon as it is possible to safely do so. Fleeing or evading the police is a crime that can result in arrest and prosecution. While it is considered a misdemeanor in Maryland, even a first offense carries a fine and a potential one-year jail term.
If you are accused of committing a crime, even a traffic violation, and regardless of if there is an ambulance involved, you should immediately seek the advice of an experienced Annapolis criminal defense lawyer. Even a seemingly minor offense may have serious consequences. As a criminal defense attorney, I have successfully defended clients against a full range of criminal charges in state and federal courts throughout Maryland.
And remember – Keep Calm, and Call Drew.