Rescue-squad worker zaps partner with defib paddles for fun...she died. OOPS!
LEBANON -- Joshua Philip Martin was in his fourth day on the job as a rescue-squad worker in Russell County when, in a playful mood, he decided to reach into the front seat of the ambulance and zap one of his co-workers with the defibrillator paddles. The rookie's mistake was fatal.
Yesterday, in Russell Circuit Court, a judge convicted Martin, 25, of involuntary manslaughter, warning the burly but pink-faced young man that when he returns to court in March, he likely will be sent to prison. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The target of Martin's prank was Courtney Hilton Rhoton, a 23-year-old mother of two small children who had worked her way through school to become an emergency medical technician. She went into cardiac arrest seconds after Martin placed the paddles on her chest and shoulder. Three days later, on June 4, she died.
After watching bailiffs lead Martin off to jail yesterday, the mothers of Rhoton and Martin stood at opposite ends of a narrow courthouse hallway and wept, one for the loss of her daughter, the other for the fate of her son. All agreed Martin had meant no harm, though none derived comfort from the thought.
"If they just knew Josh!" his mother, Diana White, exclaimed between sobs. "He just made a mistake. Everybody plays on the job, even cops. But with this one, it caught up. He's going to pay for it for the rest of his life."
"He was just playing around," Martin's aunt, Karen Martin, said. "Anybody who knows him knows this was not intentional."
Rhoton's mother, Sandra Davenport, could not summon words to express her grief, except to say: "Everybody loved her."
In the courtroom minutes earlier, Martin had stood with his hands deep in his pants pockets and pleaded no contest to the charge against him, allowing Russell prosecutor Mike Bush to summarize the evidence without calling witnesses. According to Bush, if the case had gone to trial, a witness would have testified that Martin, an EMT, was in the back of a Highlands Ambulance Service ambulance on June 1 when he first picked up the paddles of the manual defibrillator.
Defibrillators are used to restore heartbeats, but they can also stop a heart. Martin, though an EMT, was not yet qualified to use the defibrillator and had been told it is not something to play with, Bush said.
Rhoton was in the front passenger seat of the ambulance, and driver Michael Coleman was heading south on U.S. 19 in Lebanon when Coleman heard Rhoton tell Martin not to touch her "with that," Bush said. Coleman looked back to see Martin putting the paddles away.
But shortly afterward, Bush said, Coleman heard the "sound of a shock" and heard Rhoton yell: "Oh my God, Mike, he shocked me!" Seconds later she stiffened and then went limp. Coleman frantically tried to hold her slumping body up while driving and calling the private ambulance company's office.
Rhoton, who had been an EMT for one year, never regained consciousness. She left behind two children, Christopher and Tamra, now 6 and 4.
Yesterday, the families of the two EMTs passed each other in the hallway as they left the courtroom.
Rhoton's sister, Chanda Lawson, 30, expressed bitterness as she watched the Martin family cry: "They're crying because he's going to jail, but my sister's not coming back."
Karen Martin overheard the comment and blurted out: "Josh is a good kid! A good kid!"