Despite law, hospitals sometimes say no to police
Last Monday morning, Loves Park police battled to get a blood sample from a man they believed drove drunk and killed a 17-year-old girl. They lost.
The physician in charge of the emergency room at Rockford Memorial Hospital that day refused to take the man’s blood despite being told a subpoena signed by a judge was en route, police said.
But hospital officials say they did not take a sample of the man’s blood for police because they never saw an order.
Loves Park Police Sgt. David Jacobson said that’s true. Police rerouted the subpoena to the Winnebago County Jail, where medical personnel took the blood sample. That was after hospital personnel told police they would not draw a sample without having the subpoena reviewed by the hospital’s “risk management” personnel.
“I asked them how long that would take because the clock was ticking,” Jacobson said. “They told me I could get someone else to do it.”
Hospital spokesman Wester Wuori said hospital staff would have complied with the order if one arrived.
“We can’t do it if they don’t present the order,” Wuori said. “If one was presented, we would comply. It’s our policy.”
A growing problem
Getting medical workers to comply with orders for blood samples is becoming an all-too-common problem, Jacobson said.
“According to state law, motorists cannot refuse a blood draw. State law protects medical personnel from lawsuits. But hospitals sometimes refuse to follow the law,” he said. “We ran into a snag with it early Monday. Other times, it’s fine. It depends on who’s in charge that night.”
The man police wanted a blood sample from is Wesley J. Hanson, 44, of Beloit, Wis.
He was charged with aggravated driving under the influence, disobeying a traffic-control signal and driving without a valid license after the accident, which occurred at 12:40 a.m. Monday. He later was charged with possession of cannabis.
Witnesses told police that Hanson was driving north on Forest Hills Road when he drove through a red light at Harlem Road. Amanda Kordich, 17, of Loves Park was traveling west on Harlem Road. Hanson’s vehicle struck Kordich’s white Toyota Celica on the driver’s side.
‘We woke up a judge’
Kordich was pronounced dead at the scene. Hanson was taken to Rockford Memorial for treatment, police said.
“We woke up a judge at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Jacobson said, describing the Police Department’s efforts to obtain subpoenas to draw blood and to search Hanson’s vehicle.
Winnebago County State’s Attorney Philip Nicolosi was at the scene of the accident and later spoke with 30 family members in the wee hours of the morning assuring them that Hanson would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Nicolosi said Wednesday he was “baffled” as to why the hospital did not immediately comply with the Police Department’s request to draw blood.
“Anyone who has been in a serious injury incident or an accident involving a death, the suspect shall submit to testing,” Nicolosi said. “That’s the law.
“I don’t know why the hospital would want to send a message to the community that they are not cooperating with the law.”
Police eventually got a blood sample from Hanson, albeit several hours after the accident, when he was transported to the Winnebago County Jail.
“This will not have a major impact on this case because this man’s blood alcohol content was so high,” Jacobson said, “but if it wasn’t for the correctional center having medical staff on duty that were willing to do it, we would have been in trouble.”
Nicolosi said the hospital’s actions could have jeopardized the prosecution of a criminal case.
Jacobson said police need their own blood sample to send to the state crime lab for testing and to share with defense attorneys when the case goes to trial.
Jacobson is calling for a change in protocol or training to prevent disagreements like the one that occurred Monday morning.
“Maybe we need to hire someone who can be on call that all of the police agencies can share,” he said. “I think we need to come up with a plan to prevent this from happening again.”
Nicolosi is willing to take the matter a step further.
“If the law needs to be amended for further clarification, I’m going to lead the call to do that,” he said. “It’s that important.”
Chris Green contributed to this report. Corina Curry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (815) 987-1395.
What state law says
Sec. 11-501.6. Driver involvement in personal injury or fatal motor vehicle accident - chemical test.
(a) Any person who drives or is in actual control of a motor vehicle upon the public highways of this State and who has been involved in a personal injury or fatal motor vehicle accident, shall be deemed to have given consent to a breath test using a portable device as approved by the Department of State Police or to a chemical test or tests of blood, breath, or urine for the purpose of determining the content of alcohol, other drug or drugs, or intoxicating compound or compounds of such person's blood if arrested as evidenced by the issuance of a Uniform Traffic Ticket for any violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code or a similar provision of a local ordinance, with the exception of equipment violations contained in Chapter 12 of this Code, or similar provisions of local ordinances. The test or tests shall be administered at the direction of the arresting officer. The law enforcement agency employing the officer shall designate which of the aforesaid tests shall be administered. A urine test may be administered even after a blood or breath test or both has been administered. Compliance with this Section does not relieve such person from the requirements of Section 11-501.1 of this Code.
(b) Any person who is dead, unconscious or who is otherwise in a condition rendering such person incapable of refusal shall be deemed not to have withdrawn the consent provided by subsection (a) of this Section. In addition, if a driver of a vehicle is receiving medical treatment as a result of a motor vehicle accident, any physician licensed to practice medicine, registered nurse or a phlebotomist acting under the direction of a licensed physician shall withdraw blood for testing purposes to ascertain the presence of alcohol, other drug or drugs, or intoxicating compound or compounds, upon the specific request of a law enforcement officer. However, no such testing shall be performed until, in the opinion of the medical personnel on scene, the withdrawal can be made without interfering with or endangering the well-being of the patient.