4 min

Village man dies in long wait for paramedics

Eyewitness account contradicts EMS chair

"HE DIED WITH HIS HEAD IN MY HANDS." Manuel Rodriguez sits in the hallway at 40 Alexander St where he and his roommate found Jim Hearst bleeding on the night of Jun 25. Credit: Michael Pihach

He had blood on his hands and clothes and sweat dripping from his face.

Still Manuel Rodriguez, a bystander, continued to pump on the chest of the older man slumped in the main floor hallway of the well-kept apartment building at 40 Alexander St on the evening of Jun 25.

“Where’s the ambulance?” cried Rodriguez, 32, who had tended to the fallen man for nearly a half hour, desperately waiting for help despite at least three 911 calls.

Telling a 911 dispatcher that a man was “turning blue in the face” wasn’t enough. By the time help did arrive — firefighters in this case — Jim Hearst was already dead.

“He died with his head in my hands,” says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is just one of three people who shared the 59-year-old transportation broker’s final moments. Hearst, who also lived in the building in Toronto’s gay village, was the victim of an apparent heart attack. As he collapsed he hit his head, leaving him bleeding.

Rodriguez and his roommate were on their way home from a Michael Jackson memorial at Yonge-Dundas Square. As they entered their building and headed toward the elevators, Rodriguez noticed three guys to his right, residents of the building, who seemed to be freaking out.

“Are you guys okay?” he asked.

With a “surprised” look, the three directed Rodriguez to Hearst who had fallen in the hallway near the laundry room.

“It looked like he bumped his head,” says Rodriguez. “He wasn’t talking. He was just moving.”

Rodriguez asked the men if they had called 911, which they said they had. But as a precaution, Rodriguez called the building’s security service, Intelliguard Corp, to report the incident. The time was 11:08pm. An Intelliguard security guard arrived at the scene within four minutes.

“By that time I was trying to keep [Hearst] calm,” says Rodriguez. “I kept saying, ‘Sir, you’re in good hands…. Someone is coming to help.”

Rodriguez held Hearst’s hand. The three men who made the initial 911 call asked if it was “okay” to leave and did.

“We thought we’d be fine because we called 911,” says Rodriguez.

But the bleeding went from bad to worse.

“There was blood coming from his nose and his head,” recalls Rodriguez. “He went unconscious.… Half of his face was red and purple.”

A nursing student who lives in the building was passing by and offered to help.

“She didn’t like the look of his face,”  says Rodriguez.

They rolled Hearst onto his side while Rodriguez’s roommate paced in the lobby, occasionally stepping into the street to look for paramedics, but there were none to be seen. At one point they even considered going to a nearby firehall by taxi to fetch help.

“We waited and waited but no one was coming,” says Rodriguez.

The Intelliguard security guard called her company’s dispatcher, who in turn called 911. Hearst drifted in and out of consciousness.

“We started looking at each other thinking, ‘Oh shit,’” says Rodriguez.

They couldn’t find his pulse. They rolled him onto his back and the nurse began to perform CPR. Fifteen minutes, 20 minutes — still no ambulance. Friday night party-goers came and went from the building. Residents came and went from the laundry room. The security guard called Intelliguard dispatch a second time who called 911 a second time. Suddenly Hearst began to move.

“He stretched out his body and moved his head up,” says Rodriguez, who sat holding Hearst’s head in his hands.  “I kept telling him that help was coming.”

But after briefly regaining consciousness, Hearst was gone. Rodriguez shut the man’s eyes but they continued to take turns performing CPR. Finally help arrived; first the fire department.

“They walked through the hallway really slowly,” recalls Rodriguez. “They were talking to each other like high-school students. My roommate was doing CPR and they told him to keep doing it.”

After performing CPR for more than 30 minutes Rodriguez, his roommate and the nursing student were covered in blood, sweating profusely and physically exhausted.

“And they tell us to keeping going?” says Rodriguez. “I’m thinking, ‘What the hell? This is ridiculous.’”

A few minutes later paramedics arrived, then police.

“What took you guys so long?” exclaimed Rodriguez. “You guys are too late, this guy is dead.”

The time? 11:45pm, 37 minutes after Rodriguez’s initial call to Intelliguard. Rodriguez broke down and began to cry.

At a Jul 14 press conference Toronto Emergency Medical Services (EMS) chair Bruce Farr told reporters that paramedics arrived at Hearst’s building within nine minutes. It’s an assertion that contradicts what Rodriguez says.

Farr said paramedics didn’t enter because of “health and safety issues.”

Paramedics sometimes wait for police if they believe they may be entering a dangerous situation. But Farr wouldn’t say precisely why paramedics held back in this case.

“There’s nothing unsafe about this neighbourhood,” says Rodriguez, who has lived at 40 Alexander for five years.

Some blame the Toronto city strike for the delay. Others wonder if paramedics held back because 40 Alexander is in the gay village and because blood, possibly HIV-positive blood, could have been involved.

“My friends have been asking if EMS held back because the building is in the gay village,” says Rodriguez. “I don’t have any cuts on my hands but  I put myself in more risk than EMS did.”

Rodriguez, still shaken up by the incident, plans to seek counselling.

“I feel so depressed,” he says. “I feel helpless. I feel like I could have done more. We were three people with no gloves, covered in blood and when help arrived they couldn’t do anything either.”

Hearst is survived by Alejandro Martinez, his partner of eight years, who was away in New York City the night Hearst passed away. He says he feels guilty for not being there for his lover when he fell.

“The fact that emergency took so long really frustrates me,” says Martinez, 31. “Jim had a chance to survive the heart attack.”

Ontario’s office of the chief coroner is investigating the death. EMS chair Bruce Farr announced that average emergency response times have increased by only 53 seconds since the strike began. The City of Toronto is taking legal action to ensure EMS operates at full strength during civic workers’ strikes.